How Many Republicans Does It Take to Screw Up Our Light Bulb Savings?

David Edison Sloane:  My great-grandfather would be all for keeping intact the Energy Independence and Security Act. The law requires light bulbs of all types to be at least 25 percent more energy efficient by 2012. To [Thomas Alva] Edison, that would have been no big deal.

He would have immediately embraced the challenge of reducing the power usage of the incandescent light bulb — and regarded it as a great opportunity to offer consumers a better and more ecologically sound product

That is Sloane writing in HuffPost on “What Thomas Edison Would Do.”

The light bulb legislation stands little chance of winning support from Democrats. | AP Photo

Politico:  “House Republicans will bow to their tea party base on Monday by bringing up legislation” aimed at undoing light bulb standards. AP Photo.

As Climate Progress reported Friday, Republicans are set to repeal a light bulb efficiency standard that would save consumers $12 billion a year.   They claim this is about preserving the incandescent bulb, but as a leading manufacturer told CP:

“The reality is, consumers will see no difference at all. The only difference they’ll see is lower energy bills because we’re creating more efficient incandescent bulbs.”

Even the centrist Politico points out the pointlessness of this purely ideologically-driven effort:

But for those keeping score at home, the proposal that reflects the catcalls of Rush Limbaugh, Glenn Beck and Michele Bachmann is likely to land in the same dustbin now home to many other GOP energy proposals.

Here’s more from David Edison Sloane on why his great-grandfather, who invented the incandescent light bulb 132 years ago, would support maintaining the lighting efficiency standard:

Edison understood that incandescent lights burned up a lot of power. The present bulb, more or less unimproved for more than a century, still uses up to 90 percent of the incoming electricity as heat wasted in making the filament incandescent, not in making ”light” as such.

As an inventor, Edison would have no interest in turning back the legislative clock. The wizard of Menlo Park dedicated himself to advancing human comfort, not freeze life as we knew it in 1879.

I know where he’d be this morning if he were still with us: in his West Orange, N.J., lab working furiously on a better bulb. And when he was done, it would be cheaper and more energy efficient. Repealing EISA won’t improve anybody’s life. He would have scorned the cynics who are trying to turn a technical challenge into a political football.

Moreover, my great-grandfather would be annoyed by the misleading and sometimes downright false statistics being thrown around in this controversy.

One red-herring is that an over-reaching Big Government is taking away our beloved incandescent bulb. Not true. Consumers can continue choosing from an array of more modern, energy efficient bulbs, including halogen incandescents, compact fluorescents (CFLs) and light-emitting diodes (LEDs.) By the way, are you telling me that we can send a man to the moon but the entire population hasn’t got one electrical engineer who can improve the heat-loss-to-incandescent ratio?

Another argument that turns out to smell fishy is the red herring that CFLs are dangerous because they contain about 3 milligrams of mercury. Before I did the math, I thought so, too.

No one should minimize mercury as a pollutant, but intelligent disposal and recycling of everyday mercury-bearing products is the best way to keep it out of the environment. Among other household products that contain more mercury include thermostats, your watch battery and, oh yes, the fillings in your teeth (unless you have switched to plastic.)

A far greater human health threat comes from the mercury spewed by electricity-generating power plants. Once the new standards take full effect in 2020, mercury emissions associated with common household lighting would be reduced by 60%. That will also eliminate about 100 million tons of carbon dioxide pollution from the atmosphere each year — the equivalent of taking 17 million cars off the road.

Remember, in May, Barton, denied there was any “medical negative” from mercury emitted from coal power plants.  So this isn’t about the GOP acting as protector of the public.

The light bulb furor highlights another crucial Edison conviction. Long ago he wanted the United States to abandon oil as a primary energy source.

In fact, near the end of his life, he told Henry Ford and Harvey Firestone that he wanted America to end its reliance on oil and other polluting fossil fuels and, instead, embrace clean, renewable sources of energy, especially solar power. Edison would be deeply disappointed by our inability to make more progress toward solar, wind and nuclear power that is safe and cost effective.

So Edison would strongly favor the most efficient light source that we can invent. He personally would be forging ahead to create and then market such a better product. And if that meant incandescents come in second, or third, so be it. No matter what, my great-grandfather would have welcomed with relish a brighter future for all.

Lastly, forgive my partiality to the elegant shape of my great-grandfather’s bulbs. The spiral CFLs are plain ugly. But to each his own. There are plenty of alternatives on the market to choose from. Isn’t that the American way?

I wonder if the misguided drive to reverse progress on light bulbs isn’t part of a broader assault on our environment; if so, Edison would be appalled by it. Instead, he’d be pushing America to do more, much more, to clean up our air, water and land — rather than trying to prevent such agencies as the Environmental Protection Agency from updating public health safeguards under the Clean Air Act, as some of the congressional fish-mongers are doing.

My great-grandfather would be calling us to put politics aside and get back to doing what Americans do best — create better mousetraps… and better light-bulbs.

Hear!  Hear!

Below are earlier comments from the Facebook commenting system:


“Some [GOP] staffers privately admitted…rolling back the lightbulb law seemed like a bad idea”.​/battle-of-the-bulb-201107​08

July 11 at 11:16am

James Hwang

The link doesn’t work for some reason.

July 11 at 2:02pm

Peter S. Mizla

Just about everything the republicans do now is ideologically driven- that is all they can discuss- no solutions. Look back to 1980 and all will be well again.

July 11 at 11:26am

John McCormick

Peter, repugs are psychopaths. There is no ideology in the mind of psychopath.

July 11 at 8:00pm

crazy tempura

They’ll tell everyone to look back to 1950 or 1750, depending on whether they want libertarianism or feudalism.

July 12 at 8:15pm

David Sullivan

They’re just concept sellers. Many times, they don’t have much of anything to really back up what their sales points are. The devil’s in the details, ie. doesn’t really fulfill their concept statements. Guess that makes it a lie, huh? True enough at the concept level, but when there is nothing to really back it up, it’s basically a lie. That’s why I call them bad sales people. And they’ll do it with a smile on their face. They’re in every industry. Have people stopped questioning these things? Have people stopped reading the fine print before they sign?

July 13 at 3:06am

Peter S. Mizla

These republicans talk about ‘individual liberty’ be taken away- with incandescent being removed. Does that liberty and freedom mean we have to endure civilization altering climate change?

July 11 at 12:25pm


There are so many layers to your point that I could appreciate. I could write a book about every angle of it. Your comment is like a hit of acid that shows things in a whole panoply of contrasting and overlapping interpretations, the major insight being that, yes, if AGW really was utterly proven, and temperature and sea level really were surging, most likely a majority of Republicans would vote against nanny statist policies meant to ration energy use.

Oh, wait, that’s not actually so! They *were* on your bandwagon, before Climategate and all the IPCCgates! I remember now: the light bulb ban was the work of Bush Jr.

But since then?

IPCC Glaciergate: 2035 was reported instead of 2305, based on a non-peer reviewed magazine article.
IPCC Himalayagate: prediction of ice loss were basically made up in a WWF pamphlet.
IPCC Greenpeacegate: a Greenpeace official was a lead author on the renewable energy chapter, one who cited his own non-peer reviewed work published with a green energy lobby foundation.a
IPCC Amazongate: up to 40 per cent loss of the Amazon rainforest due to AGW was based on a WWF pamphlet about the effects of logging.
IPCC Seagate: claimed that 55% of the Netherlands is below sea level, versus the real value of 26%.
IPCC Africagate: claim that yields from agriculture could be reduced by up to 50 percent by 2020 were based on a pamphlet a by a Canadian advocacy group, written by an obscure Moroccan academic who specialises in carbon trading.
IPCC Pachaurigate: the IPCC chairman was found to be deeply involved in carbon trading schemes, as a chairman of the board of many green energy companies.

July 11 at 6:04pm

W Scott Lincoln

Welcome to science. Many of the things you discuss were brought up, discussed by scientists, apologized for, and corrected. That’s how science works. And you also found less than 10 errors in a document that is hundreds and hundreds of pages long cover numerous topics and subtopics, written by dozens and dozens of separate authors. And even after those errors were corrected, the final conclusions of the document remain unchanged.

I could probably find more errors than that in my M.S. thesis, and it wasn’t even 100 pages long. You do your best at the time, learn from your mistakes, make the science better next time. In context, the things you mention are just silly.

July 11 at 9:48pm

David Sullivan

They’re just bad sales people, using false precepts as props. (getting away with it though…) Their games get pretty transparent after a while. Mostly vocalizing conceptual points they use to convince the herd to follow along with their agenda. They use every opportunity to keep reinforcing their big bad government, and levering fear to manipulate the herd. I would have to conclude the big bad government results from the behavior of these people, who will spend how many trillion destroying Iraq, give more trillions to the ultra-rich whom they serve, focus on small change related to the current deficit (not solving the problem now), while they look to their next big meals to devour money from Social Security (cash flow positive), and the prey of the sickness industries. They’re perfectly happy with government, as long as they’re doing the governing, when it serves their interests, and lines their pockets. (it’s always been that way with some people)

July 13 at 2:51am


Yep, for Republicans ideology will always trump reason.

July 11 at 12:54pm

David Sullivan

It sells. People keep letting them get away with it. What does that say about their audiences? If people don’t put a stop to their behavior it will continue. Why do people keep falling for their values based selling toxicity? They know how to manipulate people. You’ve gotta give them some negative credit for that.

July 13 at 2:56am

Joshua Probert

How do you define energy efficiency? If all you want is light, then just measure that. If you want the heat as well, to help heat your home, to incubate eggs, to your house cooler but the rooms you are in warmer, then you would measure light+heat. On the former, CFLs/LEDs win, on the latter, Incandescents win.

July 11 at 1:05pm


Yes, and, if you want light plus air conditioning, the heat from incandescent bulbs will cost you a lot of money. So, maybe decoupling heating from light production is a good idea.

July 11 at 1:56pm

Joshua Probert

Good for you. Buy CFLs.

July 11 at 5:35pm

Anthony Silvestri

Does anything real happen in DC, anymore?

July 11 at 1:26pm

John McCormick

Yes, the happenings in Washington, DC are a lot like reading the Onion. “Houston, you are the problem”

July 11 at 4:29pm

Colorado Bob

Meanwhile in the real world –
Up to 528 mm of rain in the central or southern parts of the country over the weekend left 11 people dead, four missing, and 106 households flooded.
Some 97 houses were inundated in Jinju, South Gyeongsang Province and Goheung, South Jeolla Province, 16,444 ha of farmland drenched, and 36 roads destroyed. Jinju saw 318 mm of rain on Saturday alone, a record for July.
Overall more than 30 mm of rain per hour drenched Korea over the weekend as a wet-weather front has been shuttling back and forth from north to south since the monsoon season began on June 22.​site/data/html_dir/2011/07​/11/2011071101061.html

July 11 at 1:28pm

Colorado Bob

ABILENE, Texas — Abilene broke an all-time low temperature record over the weekend.
The low temperature of 84 degrees Saturday morning was the warmest low temperature ever recorded in Abilene. It beat the previous record of 83 degrees – set back on Aug. 11, 1964.​8508492/detail.html

July 11 at 1:35pm

Panella Dee Slaughter McComas

Both incandescent and fluorescent light bulbs should always be made available. To those of us with lupus, being around fluorescent lights is just like being in the sun…not a good thing. :(

July 11 at 3:08pm


As a wildman skeptic of sorts, I would be perfectly happy with a 50% or even 100% tax on Edison bulbs, were I guaranteed that that tax would go to support one thing: R&D into higher efficiency incandescent bulbs, likely based on adding nano-whiskers of metal or carbon fibers to their coiled filaments, and doing it cheaply.

The fascist element of the green movement represents its downfall. Guys, you are *banning* things like Puritans instead of actually putting money into improvement of things people actually want. It’s a losing strategy.

-=NikFromNYC=- former nano-tech researcher.

July 11 at 6:11pm

Joan Savage

The current law (Public Law 110-140, Section 321) has efficiency standards for incandescent bulbs, which it would not bother to have if their manufacturing was forbidden, eh?
I’m not a lawyer, but that’s how it looks. See the two tables for general service incandescent lamps on [[Page 121 STAT. 1577]] (3) (A) (ii) (I) (cc).
–Very nice to see the Sloane piece on how Edison would have worked on meeting (or exceeding) the efficiency standards.

July 11 at 3:22pm

Colorado Bob

The ice cream bulb is a bit like the answering machine. Nobody is buying them anymore. LED’s are coming as fast as anything we ever made.

July 11 at 4:00pm

John McCormick


July 11 at 4:44pm

Timothy Hughbanks

If you weren’t already aware, it is worth noting that Home Depot will recycle your compact fluorescent bulbs. You might want to buy new bulbs from them and tell them you appreciate the service.

July 11 at 7:40pm

Linda Pierce

So will IKEA

July 13 at 12:01pm

Nathan Gilliatt

The only reason I can think of to preserve incandescent bulbs is for chicken brooders—which use the bulb as a heat source.

July 11 at 9:47pm

Emily Fox Martine

Or maybe for people like me who get headaches from fluorescents.

July 11 at 11:10pm

John Genovese

So don’t buy them. This legislation hasn’t made them illegal or unavailable.

July 13 at 12:33pm

Gary Ross

Edison didn’t invent the light bulb – he perfected the long lasting filament. The light bulb was invented by Joseph Swan.

July 12 at 10:59am

David Sullivan

Why? What’s their agenda? They have purposes with these things. What are they? As regressive and stupid as their behaviors seem, I’d like to know what their true underlying agendas really are.

July 13 at 2:12am

John Genovese

Getting elected.

July 13 at 12:31pm

David Sullivan

Maybe we should not have a full time Congress. They work for the Americans (or at least some of them). If they’re wasting this much time and cost with these trivial regressive matters, maybe they need less time in Congress. Seriously, with national crises looming, and they’re wasting time with this. Maybe they’ve got too much law making time on their hands. They look like clowns in the eyes of the intelligent world, and people with good common sense. Some should be fired, if that were possible. There’s less government for ya. It’s the people that are the problem, not the government itself. Bad or incompetent people exist in every big entity. Human behavior is the fundamental problem here. It’s whether we let the bad apples ruin the whole bunch that matters.

July 13 at 2:19am

Peter Dublin

Re your post title – rather:
How many politicians or bureaucrats should it take to change a light bulb? None
How many citizens should be allowed to choose? Everyone ( ).

July 15 at 5:14pm

Peter Dublin

RE “Coal plant mercury from incandescents worse than CFL mercury”:
Even EPA are moving away from that one:

July 15 at 5:18pm

Comments are closed.