Three years ago, U.S. Rep. Michele Bachmann introduced what she called the “Light Bulb Freedom of Choice Act,” aimed at repealing a 2007 law that mandated the phase-out of inefficient incandescent bulbs. Government should not tell consumers what kinds of light bulbs they can buy, the Tea Party Republican from Minnesota asserted.
Yet mandating better technology and more-stringent energy controls is exactly what government should do to ensure that the nation moves toward energy independence and efficiency. And the mandates are working.
Home electricity use declined last year for the third year in a row, the federal Energy Information Administration reports. In fact, it reached its lowest level since 2001.
In Ohio, household demand has stayed steady since 2007, says Christopher Eck, a FirstEnergy spokesman, in part because of efficiency measures. Ohioans’ electricity consumption is expected to drop slightly by 2018.
Congress passed the energy law to which Ms. Bachmann objects on an overwhelming bipartisan vote; then-President George W. Bush signed it. Under the law, manufacture of conventional bulbs from 40 to 100 watts is being phased out, to be replaced by bulbs that use 27 percent less energy. By 2020, most new bulbs will be as much as 70 percent more efficient than obsolete incandescent ones, which are based on century-old technology.
Conspiracy theorists say the original bulbs were pioneers of planned obsolescence — among the first products made deliberately to have a short lifespan. It’s been a wrenching experience for some users who yearn for familiar bulbs.
Yet just as the latest generation of low-flow toilets has overcome the problems of the first water-savers, so better replacements for the old bulbs will come along. The spiral-shaped compact fluorescent lights, among the first bulbs offered as replacements, may already be on the way out, as consumers are drawn to newer, more attractive options.
The 2007 law also promoted the production of cleaner, more-efficient fuels, and adopted higher fuel-use standards for passenger cars and trucks, buildings, and appliances. The stimulus package during President Obama’s first term also promoted energy efficiency.
Ms. Bachmann’s bill never passed, but Congress voted in 2012 to deny funding for enforcement of the light bulb phase-out. By then, though, manufacturers already had begun to develop new lighting technologies.
Despite the harangues, the nation is becoming more energy-efficient and less dependent on foreign oil. That’s what responsible government should aim to do.