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Editorial: Don’t buy bulb brouhaha

What do some House and Senate Republicans have against the light bulb industry?
The question arises as Congress considers repealing the 2007 regulation mandating more efficient light bulbs. While repeal advocates act as if radical environmentalists and nanny-state government types are the only ones supporting the law, the light bulb lobby is waving for attention from the corner. That industry has already flipped the switch on transition from conventional incandescents to the higher efficiency bulbs being phased in over the next few years. The National Electrical Manufacturers Association (NEMA) favors keeping the law, which it helped write under the Bush administration. Itís also supported by the American Lighting Association, another trade group.
If industry wants to keep these regulations, why are supposedly business-friendly politicians expending so much energy opposing them? And how do you reconcile calls for energy independence, on the one hand, with demands that energy-wasting products remain on the market when replacements could reduce the electricity demand for lighting by up to 30 percent?
Ponder that logic while taking a closer look at the law. It does not ěbanî all incandescent bulbs, as some claim, any more than government fuel economy mandates banned four-barrel carburetors and non-computerized ignition systems. The government set a graduated energy standard for light bulbs and left it to manufacturers to decide how best to meet it. Some companies are concentrating on compact fluorescents (and working, incidentally, to reduce the mercury content that is a legitimate concern). Others, such as Durham-based Cree, are developing LED technologies. Yet others are bringing more halogen options to market.
And, as a NEMA spokesman noted this week, improvements in the familiar incandescent bulb may enable it to meet the new standards, too.
As with any shift to new technologies, the path isnít without pitfalls. Although CFLs accounted for 25 percent of bulbs sold in 2010, the efficiency shift hasnít led to more U.S.-based production, at least not yet. Indeed, those whoíve lost the most through the new regulations are the 200 workers at a GE plant in Westchester, Va., that recently closed, turning out the lights on the last major U.S. bulb plant. That could change, however, as demand increases and more consumers say theyíre willing to pay a premium for U.S.-made products.
The old incandescent bulb served us well for many decades, but as the relic of another century ó the 19th ó itís overdue for an update. It generates a lot more heat than light.
You might say the same for the repeal debate going on in Washington.

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