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House votes to block enforcement of light bulb rules

December 16, 2011 |  1:06 pm

An incandescent light bulb and a squiggly fluorescent bulb.
The lights will stay on in Washington -- and they’ll be burning incandescent bulbs.

A spending bill needed to prevent a federal government shutdown would block enforcement of new energy-efficiency rules for light bulbs, letting old-style incandescent bulbs stay around a bit longer.

The provision was a high priority of congressional Republicans who have portrayed the rules as a symbol of regulatory excess.

“This is an early Christmas present for all Americans,'' said Rep. Joe Barton (R-Texas). "It restores the freedom, at least temporarily, for you to choose the light bulbs you want to illuminate your home.''

Energy legislation signed by President George W. Bush in 2007 called for phasing out the old incandescents over three years, starting with 100-watt bulbs Jan. 1, in favor of more efficient lighting.

The prohibition on enforcement of the new rules is included in a $915-billion spending bill approved by the House on Friday and sent to the Senate. The prohibition applies only for the current fiscal year, which ends Sept. 30. California has already implemented the new standards.

"I can’t believe it," said Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.), who supports the new rules. She said the Republicans who pushed to block enforcement of the rules have "become deniers ... deniers of the fact that the climate is warming.''

Rep. Ted Poe (R-Texas), an outspoken critic of the new rules, recently declared that "since the federal government has taken the power to choose away from Americans," consumers have been "flocking to their local Wal-Marts to hoard the last of the incandescent bulbs."

Unlike other GOP-sponsored efforts to rein in regulations that have drawn cheers from industry groups, this one didn't.

Kyle Pitsor, vice president of government affairs for the National Electrical Manufacturers Assn., said it would create "regulatory uncertainty" for U.S. bulb manufacturers that have invested millions of dollars to produce more efficient bulbs.

The provision, he told reporters, would "allow potential bad actors to sell inefficient light bulbs in the United States without any fear of federal enforcement," creating a competitive disadvantage for U.S. manufacturers moving to produce more efficient lights.

"Who’s in favor of wasting energy?" Kateri Callahan, president of the Alliance to Save Energy, asked in a conference call with reporters on Friday.

Sen. Jeff Bingaman (D-N.M.), chairman of the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee, said the provision could have limited practical effect since many bulb manufacturers are making more efficient bulbs. "If America is to have a rational energy policy, we need to make progress in efficiency,'' he said.

Critics of the new standards have focused on the spiral fluorescent lights, which cost more, are made mainly in China, contain mercury and, they say, don't give off as much light as the old bulbs. Supporters of the new rules, including consumer and environmental groups and Thomas Edison descendants, say they will save energy and reduce greenhouse emissions. Consumers, they say, will still be able to buy a new model of incandescents that will cost more but save money over time because they will be more efficient.

Congressional Republicans have portrayed the rules as a federal attempt to limit consumer choice. Texas earlier this year enacted legislation seeking to get around the federal law by declaring that incandescent bulbs -- if made and sold only in Texas -- do not involve interstate commerce and therefore are not subject to federal regulation.

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--Richard Simon in Washington

Photo: An incandescent light bulb and a squiggly fluorescent bulb. Credit: Glenn Koenig / Los Angeles Times

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