If energy needs to be saved, there are good ways to do it.
                                                               Government product regulation is not one of them

Friday, July 8, 2011

New Congress Light Bulb Bill

Update: The attempt to fast-track the bill failed July 12:
"This bill is provisionally dead due to a failed vote on July 12, 2011 under a fast-track procedure called "suspension." It may or may not get another vote." (govtrack.us info).
A few days later, July 15 2011, the alternative route of blocking funding for overseeing the ban was succesfully passed in the House, see the relevant blog post.

Texas Representative, and House Energy Committee ex-Chairman Joe Barton has introduced a new light bulb bill in the House of Representatives, with the aim of having a vote on it on the floor of the House during next week.

The BULB Better Use of Light Bulbs proposal H.R. 2417
effectively replaces his earlier 2011 bill H.R.91.


This Act may be cited as the ‘Better Use of Light Bulbs Act’.


(a) In General- Sections 321 and 322 of the Energy Independence and Security Act of 2007 (Public Law 110-140) are repealed.

(b) Application- The Energy Policy and Conservation Act (42 U.S.C. 6201 et seq.) shall be applied and administered as if sections 321 and 322 of the Energy Independence and Security Act of 2007 (and the amendments made by those sections) had not been enacted.


No Federal, State, or local requirement or standard regarding energy efficient lighting shall be effective to the extent that the requirement or standard can be satisfied only by installing or using lamps containing mercury.


No State or local regulation, or revision thereof, concerning the energy efficiency or energy use of medium screw base general service incandescent lamps shall be effective.


In this Act, the terms ‘general service incandescent lamp’, ‘lamp’, and ‘medium screw base’ have the meanings given those terms pursuant to the Energy Policy and Conservation Act (42 U.S.C. 6201 et seq.), as applied and administered pursuant to section 2.

As seen, and as in the earlier bill, it proposes to remove from the original 2007 Energy Act (H.R.6) (pdf)
Title III - Energy Savings Through Improved Standards for Appliance and Lighting Subtitle B - Lighting Energy Efficiency, the Sections 321 and 322.

The full and long text of the most relevant section 321 can be seen here.
Reproduced here is a Govtrack summary of those sections (my highlighting):

Title III - Energy Savings Through Improved Standards for Appliance and Lighting
Subtitle B - Lighting Energy Efficiency
Section 321 and Section 322

Section 321 -
Amends EPCA to prescribe energy efficiency standards for general service incandescent lamps, rough service lamps, and other designated lamps.

Directs the Secretary of Energy to: (1) conduct and report to the FTC on an annual assessment of the market for general service lamps and compact fluorescent lamps; and (2) carry out a proactive national program of consumer awareness, information, and education about lamp labels and energy-efficient lighting choices. Authorizes appropriations for FY2009-FY2012.

Prohibits a manufacturer, distributor, retailer, or private labeler from distributing in commerce specified adapters for incandescent lamps. Authorizes the Secretary to carry out a lighting technology research and development program. Authorizes appropriations for FY2008-FY2013.

Instructs the Secretary of Energy to report to Congress on: (1) federal measures to reduce or prevent release of mercury during the manufacture, transportation, storage, or disposal of light bulbs; (2) whether specified rulemaking deadlines will be met; (3) an NAS review of advanced solid state lighting R&D and the impact upon the types of lighting available to consumers of an energy conservation standard requiring a minimum of 45 lumens per watt for general service lighting;
and (4) the time frame for commercialization of lighting to replace incandescent and halogen incandescent lamp technology.

Section 322 -
Sets forth minimum energy efficiency standards for incandescent reflector lamps.


Regarding the federal regulations that the bill seeks to replace, it is often said that
"the federal regulations do not ban incandescent technology"

That is the clear intention.
It's strange how some lawmakers don't seem to read on what they agree on.
Notice: "the time frame for commercialization of lighting to replace incandescent and halogen incandescent lamp technology".
Notice: "the standard requiring a minimum of 45 lumens per watt for general service lighting" - before, at the latest, 1 January 2020 in the full text.
A standard that no known incandescent - Halogen or otherwise - can meet, and even if they could, they would hardly be made, as incandescent technology is admitted to be unprofitable for the major manufacturers (the industrial politics is covered here).
The "not a ban" issue will be returned to later.

So, people are denied the use of a cheap, safe, useful lighting technology
(and pushed to use questionably safe alternatives),
- an incandescent technology that easily achieves the brightness that is so difficult and expensive with CFLs and LEDs,
- and that in transparent bulbs finds attractive uses that frosted CFLs and LEDs find impossible to emulate, among many other incandescent advantages.

Note thereby the particular irony that 100W bulbs are the first to be banned,
with their cheap brightness and indeed warmth that in most temperate climates is another advantage (a heat effect ridiculed by government spokesmen until they talk about it's "bad effect" on air conditioning cooling - political logic, if you will).

Equally obviously,
energy savings are the main reason for energy usage standards.
The supposed amount of energy savings are in fact not there,
and even if they were,
there are much better and more relevant energy savings in electricity generation and distribution as well as consumption.
Given that the need to save electricity for paying consumers can be questioned in the first place,
there is nothing to defend these federal regulations.

Returning to Joe Barton's bill, and why it should be supported:

A. Bill Specification

Unlike H.R.91 it allows Section 323 and 324 to stand
These relate to lighting use in public buildings, and regulatory oversight issues.

Added on is a section 3, seeking to reduce the use of mercury-containing lamps (ie fluorescent lighting),
which replaces bill HR 739 by co-sponsor Michael Burgess of Feb 16 2011 seeking to reduce such use in public buildings.

Also added on is a section 4, that seeks to reduce local state power to modify lighting laws.
Section 4 is interesting in carrying a tacit implication that local laws
might otherwise have precedence, given the increasing number of local attempts to repeal the federal ban, a ban likely to take effect anyway in 2012 under current administration.

B. General

Some may see all this as meaningless:
Although it may pass the Republican controlled House,
that is hardly the case with the Senate,
a similar bill stalled in the Senate Energy Committee,
which conversely supported strengthening appliance energy efficiency measures in a rival bill S.398 that was considered in the same initial Hearing.
Of course, President Obama would likely veto anyway a repeal bill that came through.
The argument then is that such "hopeless" bills are just a way of
politicians profiling themselves before their core electorate.

But there are general valid reasons to pursue such bills, as exemplified here:
Firstly, it may bring out unexpected arguments both for and against,
which may be of value on any future revisit of the issue.
Secondly, depending on how far a bill goes, it may also be easier to
pass it subsequently, under different assemblies and administrations, also because the issues are clearer.
Clearly in the case here I feel there is much regurgitation of "accepted truths" about energy savings and other matters, which do not hold:
Once a ban is in place - and the actual savings are monitored -
then if they do not meet expectation, or safety issues arise, a decision should of course be re-visited.

Unfortunately, in politics - unlike in science and medicine - there seems little attention to follow up studies, little attention to whether decisions made were actually seen to be justified in terms of the reasons given for them.

C. Why the bill should be supported

A complete rundown of why light bulb regulations are wrong can be seen from
http://ceolas.net/#li1x onwards

How consumers are being deceived by pro-regulation arguments
Note in particular how consumers hardly save money regardless of energy savings, for example in that utility companies are compensated for supposed reduced sales, through taxpayer subsidies or electricity bill increases (more on http://ceolas.net/#li1ax)

Some points worth noting

1. American Sales and American Jobs

Light bulbs are banned in order to stop people buying what they want:
After all, if "markets did not fail" (sic) then people would voluntarily buy the wonderful new lighting, just like they voluntarily buy other expensive alternatives, if they are good enough.

Unfortunately, stupid citizens do not always do what their intelligent masters want:
A Canada delay to 2014 is therefore likely to give a big rise in cross-border trade,
1.5 to 2 billion (depending on source) of the simple incandescents being sold annually in the USA.
American retail sales losses may even be greater, in the sense that visiting Americans might bulk buy other lighting and other goods too, once they are in the Canadian shops.
Even with customs checks, small light bulbs are easily smuggled
(light bulbs equated to cocaine - Edison must love this, in his grave).

This could partially be modified by local US state repeals of the law
(see progress track here: http://ceolas.net/#li01inx),
but of course that in turn might require people to show proof of residence or such, in buying the bulbs.

Manufacturing jobs would likewise more easily be kept in America:
It is much easier to establish the manufacture and sale of simple cheap bulbs than of the complex expensive alternatives (which of course again "justifies" the ban).

2. Federal Energy Act 2007 Regulation Issues
Expanding on points mentioned above, and adding further points of note...

that it is a "ban":
the federal regulations, contrary to what is often said, will as said ban all of today's incandescent light bulbs, including Halogen types, by 2020 at the latest, as they do not meet the ever more stringent standards set.
Besides, energy efficient (Halogen etc) replacement incandescents still have differences and are more expensive for marginal savings, which is why they are unpopular with both consumers and politicians (and are hardly available anyway, and then only in smaller ranges, in post-ban EU and Australia stores).
More on regulations, with official links: http://ceolas.net/#li01inx

so-called "old obsolescen­t" incandesce­nt technology is also cheap safe and known lighting technology­,
compared with new complex and questionab­ly safe lighting
(CFLs with fire, mercury and radiation risks, LEDs with lead and arsenic risks, http://ceolas.net/#l­i18eax onwards with references).
Yes, we should welcome the new: it does not mean having to ban the old.

If new bulbs are as good as people say, they will buy them voluntarily - without regulatory enforcement,
just like people already buy properly marketed expensive alternative batteries, washing up liquids that "cost more to buy but save money in the long run".
Unfortunately, light bulb manufacturers prefer to push for the easier regulatory route, to gain bigger profits from more expensive bulbs, as they indeed admit http://ceolas.net/#li1ax
(indeed, why else would they - surprisingly - seek and welcome a freedom-restricting ban on what they are allowed to make and sell? )

less than 1% of US energy is saved by the lighting standards ,
according to US Dept of Energy and other official statistics (http://ceolas.net/#l­i171x)
Light bulbs don't burn coal, and they don't give out CO2 gas:
As described on the Ceolas website,
there are many more relevant ways of dealing with electricit­y generation­, distributi­on and consumptio­n.

Consumers will hardly save money anyway - regardless of what the energy savings are.
That is not just in having to pay more for the light bulbs as an initial cost, but also because electricity companies are being subsidised or allowed to raise rates to compensate for any reduced electricity use, as already seen both federally and in California, Ohio etc
(more on this and other CFL/LED programs and subsidies on http://ceolas.net/#li12ax)

Heavy government upfront costs and regulations to "save energy in the long run" is a very questionable policy given all the rebound effects as described and referenced on the ceolas website.
But even if this was justified, then taxation is still better than regulations, not least in today's cash-strapped Budget times.
Easily taxable cheap bulbs give a big federal/state income (given the current billion figure sales of relevant bulbs in USA)
- which in turn can help pay for CFL programs or lower LED/CFL prices, equilibrating the market, keeping consumer choice,
and "not just hitting the consumer with taxes", with a cheaper-than-before alternative lighting choice available.

That said, free market solutions are a better way also to lower energy use,
through competition between utilities, and between manufacturers, that keep down their costs including energy costs,
and seek to satisfy consumers with energy saving products they actually want to buy,
as described in the closing essay on http://ceolas.net/#li23x
comparing light bulb market and taxation policies to regulations.

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