Tuesday, November 09, 2010

The light-bulb question revisited

Rick Perry's recent visit to The Daily Show appears to have been well-received by most.  With that said, though, PolitiFact took issue with a few of the comments that he made on the show; apparently he has made the same types of comments in his book, Fed Up!  Our Fight to Save America from Washington (Disclaimer:  I get paid if you buy through this link.), and PolitiFact, styling itself as a shining beacon of truth, feels the need to revisit statements it made earlier.

One of PolitiFact's statements piqued my interest, as it was something on which I have opined before, namely, the phasing out of incandescent lamps over the next few years.

(Aside:  those not in the lighting business call them "light bulbs", but from what I have seen, those in the business call them "lamps", "luminaires", etc.  One person once told me, rather haughtily, that "bulbs" are those things you plant in the ground.)

Now, PolitiFact rated Governor Perry's statement that Washington is "even telling us what kind of light bulb we can use" as Barely True.  But is that a fair assessment?  Well, let's look at PolitiFact's assertions.

What we found: In 2007, Congress voted to improve the efficiency of light bulbs. President George W. Bush signed into law the Energy Independence and Security Act, which set energy efficiency standards for kinds of incandescent lamps (light bulbs), incandescent reflector lamps (like track lighting in your kitchen), and fluorescent lamps, according to a December 2007 summary by the Congressional Research Service.

So far, so good.  The EISA was what eventually came from Congress after some rather clunky earlier attempts

PolitiFact continues:

Our search for instances of the government directing which bulbs residents can use unearthed a June 2010 editorial in the Washington Times objecting to Federal Trade Commission-issued regulations of light-bulb labels. The editorial says the regs were ordered by Congress as part of its 2007 decision to force the more efficient, curlicue-shaped compact fluorescent light bulb "on a public that so far has refused to embrace it willingly. Beginning Jan. 1, 2012, the editorial says, bureaucratic rules will phase in, and" conventional 100-watt bulbs "will be first on the contraband list."

It sure sounds as if Washington is meddling with the types of lamps one can use to light one's home, office, or wherever, doesn't it?  PolitiFact doesn't think so:

Jen Stutsman, spokeswoman for the U.S. Department of Energy, told us that conventional incandescent bulbs are not expected to meet the efficiency standards Congress set, though the government expects manufacturers to improve incandescent technologies to meet the higher standards or consumers will move to compact fluorescent light bulbs, LED technologies or halogens. She said new standards for 100-watt bulbs take effect in January 2012. New standards for 75-watt bulbs start in 2013 and standards for 60- and 40-watt bulbs start in 2014.

Stutsman said the expected shifts aren't equivalent to the government telling Americans which light bulbs to use. "Under no circumstances does it say that a consumer must purchase a specific type of light bulb," Stutsman said.

No, but it makes it impossible for a plurality, if not a majority, of the American people to get the traditional light bulb they want.  Ms. Stutsman is being generous in saying that "conventional incandescent bulbs are not expected to meet the efficiency standards Congress set".  It is simply not possible for a traditional tungsten filament incandescent lamp to meet those standards.

And why is that?  Well, let's look at the EISA itself, specifically Section 321:

`GENERAL SERVICE INCANDESCENT LAMPS-----------------------------------------------------------------------------
Rated Lumen Ranges Maximum Rate Wattage Minimum Rate Lifetime Effective Date 
1490-2600                   72             1,000 hrs       1/1/2012 
1050-1489                   53             1,000 hrs       1/1/2013 
750-1049                   43             1,000 hrs       1/1/2014 
310-749                   29             1,000 hrs       1/1/2014 

On the morning of January 1, 2012, the country will wake up to discover that the 100-watt incandescent lamp (which produces about 1750 lumens and therefore falls into the first category) is no more, replaced with a 72-watt bulb with something other than a tungsten filament, since the tungsten filament is pretty much the same as it was when Edison perfected it.  (Oh, and guess what:  it'll be more expensive.)

So, in that respect, if you wanted to buy a regular old 100-watt light bulb in January 2012, the government very much would have mandated that you could not do so.  I call that a lot more than a Barely True.

(Postscript:  I know the reasoning behind these moves.  I know why some people like incandescent lamps and why others don't.  I also have already said that I believe that LED lamps will be in the mainstream within five years.   I'm not trying to debate lighting at this point.  It just serves as an example of nanny-state government on the rampage.  Rick Perry was pointing that out, and PolitiFact, I believe, had to get rather technical in an attempt to score a cheap point against him.)