The Mix: U.S. Rep. Joe Barton: The Light Bulb Ban
Now, worry over mercury, dimming problems, brightness, color, and cost -- these are issues that have some of you angry about the federal lightbulb rules. Plus, plenty of you don't like being told what to do when it comes to things you have in your home. Some Republicans in Congress feel the same way, and they have legislation before the House that would repeal the law. It's a bill called the Better Use of Light Bulbs Act. That's right, the Bulb Act. And leading the charge is Joe Barton of Texas. He explained the core of his opposition when we spoke recently in his office.
[REP. JOE BARTON, (R) TEXAS, CHAIRMAN EMERITUS, ENERGY AND COMMERCE COMMITTEE] Well, the core is a de facto ban against the use of incandescent lightbulbs, which have been around since Thomas Edison. They're cheap, they're efficient, they work, they put out good light, they're not a hazard to health, there are no environmental problems. And I think we ought to let the marketplace decide. I'm not opposed to the CFLs. I think they should earn their way in the marketplace, not be given a monopoly, so to speak. And so the Bulb Act is designed to repeal that part of the law so that we allow people who want to buy the incandescents to continue to do so.
[ASSURAS] You just said, though, that this is a ban. The 2007 legislation essentially says, "Let's get these bulbs to move toward energy efficiency because instead of light, 80% to 90% of it comes off as heat." So they're not really efficient. So it's a question of setting new standards. What's wrong with that?
[BARTON] Well, they just set a standard that they can't meet. It's a de facto ban. It's a ban in reality. And it's unnecessary. I've become something of a smart shopper for incandescent lightbulbs in the last couple years, since we've passed this law. And I was at Giant Food store in Virginia here, and the incandescent bulbs, which were still on the shelves, you could get four for, I want to say $1.90, and the cheapest CFL was about $2.50.
[ASSURAS] $2.50, okay.
[BARTON] Yeah, for one. So, you know, 40 cents versus $2.50. And most of the CFLs were over $5.
[ASSURAS] But the Alliance to Save Energy, for example, would say that you can save about $200 a year on your electricity bill by switching over to more energy efficient lightbulbs.
[BARTON] Well, they may say that, but I'm not sure in the real world -- again, the only way you do, if you burn them continuously. And most people don't burn the lights all the time. I guess there are some insomniacs that keep the lights on all night on, but normally, I come into a room, I turn the light on, and when I go out of the room, I turn the light off.
[ASSURAS] Do you like any of the new ones, of the new kinds? I mean, you said you're a pretty good shopper when it comes to these kinds of lightbulbs.
[BARTON] Um, I have not purchased any, myself. The price, when they get, when it's equal watts for equal price, I may try one, but I haven't so far.
[ASSURAS] Let me ask you about the repeal. What would you see in its stead? Is there anything that you would recommend in terms of energy efficiency?
[BARTON] For lightbulbs? Um, well, if the proponents of the CFLs are right on the issue, they'll eventually win in the marketplace, because their bulbs will outperform the incandescents, and the magic hand of the market, as Adam Smith said, will move their way.
[ASSURAS] So, really, it's largely a philosophical issue about government getting involved and telling -- and a cost issue.
[BARTON] It's two. It's philosophical, but it's also cost. I mean, I'm -- if I'm Al Gore, to pull a name out of a hat, I can spend $5 or $6 for, you know, a piggy-tailed lightbulb, and fine. But if I'm average family, I'm not sure I have the luxury of doing that. And again, if you burn these things all the time and they last forever, you might end up saving some energy, but if you turn them on and off, I'm not sure you really have those savings.
[ASSURAS] Can I ask you if you think the American public can be, I guess, trusted to be more -- to become energy efficient on their own?
[BARTON] I think you can trust the American public. I trust them every election, and they reelect me. I mean, collectively, the public is much smarter than any individual member of Congress. And if you give them the facts, give them choices, they're going to -- the majority are going to make the right decision. I mean, how can you not trust the public?
[ASSURAS] I've got to find you a cheap light bulb that's energy efficient, don't I?
[BARTON] [Chuckles] Well, you know...
[ASSURAS] Price matters, is what you're telling me. I mean, there are the new LED, you know --
[BARTON] When they go on sale at Big Lots, I'll take a look at them.
[ASSURAS] Okay, thank you, sir. Appreciate your time.
[BARTON] You bet.
Anchor Thalia Assuras sits down for a one-on-one interview with Congressman Joe Barton (R-TX).
Barton has been arguably the most vocal opponent of the incandescent bulb phase-out, because of his concerns over government regulation and cost. His legislation, the Better Use of Light Bulbs (BULB) act, would reverse the phase-out and keep incandescent lights on the shelf.
Barton described the phase-out as “a de-facto ban against the use of incandescent light bulbs,” and argued that market forces would keep incandescent bulbs in circulation without legislation to remove them. “They’re cheap, they’re efficient, they work, they put out good light, they’re not a hazard to health, there are no environmental problems,” he said.
Barton also dismissed claims by advocacy groups that efficient lighting would save consumers money. “The only way you do is if you burn them continuously,” he said. “And most people don’t burn the lights all the time.” However, he conceded that CFLs could succeed in the long run. “If the proponents of CFLs are right on the issue, they’ll eventually win the marketplace, because their bulbs will outperform the incandescents.”
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