Endangered Species: Members of Congress fight to save the incandescent light bulb

Alexis Levinson Political Reporter

One of the items added to Congress’ agenda Thursday was light bulbs.

Yesterday, Republican Reps. Joe Barton of Texas, Michael Burgess of Texas, and Marsha Blackburn of Tennessee introduced the Better Use of Light Bulbs Act, otherwise known as the BULB Act.

The BULB Act repeals a section of the Energy Independence and Security Act of 2007 that called for more energy efficient light bulbs. That provision set in motion the phasing out of incandescent light bulbs, requiring that, as much as possible, the federal government replace incandescent bulbs with more energy-efficient alternatives in all public buildings.

This weekend, The Washington Post reported that the last major GE incandescent light bulb factory, located in Winchester, Virginia, will close this month. GE, the company that operates the factory, will fire 200 workers. Compact Fluorescent Bulbs (CFLs), the more energy efficient alternative to incandescent bulbs, are manufactured overseas, primarily in China.

It was this story about the loss of American jobs that reignited Burgess’ interest in the issue and made him want to address it through legislation.

He said that in 2007 when the Clean Energy Act passed, the reasoning for the phasing out of incandescent bulbs was that over the course of five years, technology would advance, so that by the time incandescent bulbs were fully phased out, there would be more energy efficient, cheaper technology to replace it, so it wouldn’t be a problem for consumers. But since that hasn’t happened, he said, it is necessary to reevaluate the ban.

Since incandescent bulbs are cheaper than CFLs, Barton said in an interview with The Daily Caller, “it’s a debatable proposition whether the energy saved offsets the additional costs.” As a result, he said, you may end up with “some low-income families, literally, in the dark.”

What’s more, CFLs contain mercury, creating a potentially dangerous situation if one breaks. The EPA recommends that if you break a CFL bulb, everyone should evacuate while the room is aired out for at least fifteen minutes. If the mercury gets onto any bedding or clothing, those articles should be thrown out.

It’s a rather extreme procedure to cope with a commonplace accident. As Burgess put it, you’re practically “supposed to call a HAZMAT team if you break a bulb.”

This, he says, means that the government should not be requiring the use of CFLs in places like hospital nurseries or nursing homes, where the residents are often not mobile, and would therefore be unable to leave the room in the event of a broken bulb.

For both congressmen, the economic concerns outweigh the environmental concerns. “I’m not opposed to the energy saving bulbs at all,” Barton said, “but I say let the consumers make the choice, instead of mandating.”

But there is a far more insidious problem with CFLs, according to Burgess.

“The biggest, most damaging thing about the CFLs,” he said, “is that people over the age of 40 look older when they’re under fluorescent light.”