In its dealmaking on a $1 trillion budget to avoid a federal government shutdown, the U.S. Congress is poised to commit the nation to spending more on energy waste in the coming year.

In the fine print of the 1,200-page bill approved late Thursday in the House, lawmakers voted to prohibit the U.S. Department of Energy from spending any money to enforce the law set to go into effect January 1 to phase out inefficient light bulbs. The measure was headed toward approval this weekend in the Senate.

House Republicans have been railing against the bulb phase-out for months, although their efforts to garner enough votes for an outright repeal failed repeatedly. But in the closed-door horse-trading to forge a new spending plan before money runs out at midnight tonight, a deal was cut that effectively makes the phase-out toothless at least until the following budget year begins next October.

(Quiz: What You Don’t Know About Efficient Lighting)

Phase-out of light bulbs that generate more heat than light would save U.S. consumers $12 billion dollars a year, would cut as much electricity use as shutting 30 power plants, and reduce pollution equivalent to taking 14 million cars off the road, according to the Alliance to Save Energy (ASE), a nonprofit coalition of businesses and environmentalists that work to promote greater efficiency.

ASE President Kateri Callahan said in a statement that the group was “chagrined that the Congress is seeking to keep America ‘in the dark ages’ of lighting even as the rest of the world …  marches forward toward better and more efficient lighting products.” According to a report by the International Energy Agency, almost every developed country in the world (pdf) and many developing countries are moving forward to phase out traditional incandescent light bulbs.

Although U.S. House Republicans derided efforts to “ban” the incandescent bulb, the law was written to be neutral to technology, instead establishing new standards on how much light a lamp must emit for the energy it consumes. Compact fluorescent light bulbs (CFLs) are the most readily available replacements, but manufacturers have also developed advanced halogen light bulbs–a kind of incandescent lamp–that meets the new standards in the early years of the U.S. phase out. Light-emitting diodes (LEDs) that seek to imitate incandescent lamps in light quality also are on the market, although still pricey.

(Related: “Philips Wins the L Prize, but the Race is Still on For a Better Bulb“)

(Related: “On Thomas Edison Bulb Anniversary, Lighting Breakthrough“)

The Democrat-controlled Senate must also pass the budget bill for it to take effect, but it is wrangling over so many issues, including a payroll tax break and extension of unemployment benefits, that it was not expected to undo a the light bulb deal struck by House colleagues.

But the Senate still will have to grapple with energy policy before finalizing a spending plan. Republicans are threatening to hold up the tax break and unemployment provisions unless the budget contains a provision forcing approval of the Keystone XL pipeline to send more oil from the Canada oil sands to Texas refineries.

Perhaps the energy-budget tradeoffs make a certain amount of sense. A nation that’s committed to wasting more energy certainly will need more fuel.

(Related: “After Tar Sands Pipeline Decision Delayed, Other Routes Sought“)


  1. BXmacman
    United States
    January 19, 2012, 5:43 pm

    If you need immediate bright lighting for short periods of time that’s where you should use incandescent. Also during the heating season-after all, heat is heat, right? Lights for safety, exterior, and interior during the warm months should be CFL or LED. Given accurate information, I can make my own decisions.

    Our government wants to force us to stop using one commercial product and use a different one. Same government that built the levees to protect New Orleans, and the 55 mph speed limits in 1974. How did those work out for you? If we were able to make the switch at midnight tonight, not one power plant would shut down tomorrow (30 plants–give me a break).

  2. s
    January 15, 2012, 8:11 pm

    the government does not have to get involved, that’s a little crazy and over the top. people will switch by themselves. me personally though, i don’t like LEDs and florescents. they bother my eyes. i hope they improve them or come up with something new, i think i might have to check out those halogen bulbs though…

  3. Art
    December 20, 2011, 6:42 pm

    When considering CFLs it helps to remember that they have been around in various forms for thirty years and that florescent tubes, a closely related technology, go back to the late 1900s. Those four foot long tubes were, until the 90s, so loaded with mercury that they were defined as toxic waste. The long tubes with green ends have much less mercury and are not listed as toxic waste.

    None of the CFLs sold today have enough mercury to require special disposal procedures or any listing as toxic waste. Cleanup of a broken CFL is as simple as gently sweeping it up, wiping the area with a damp paper towel, to clean up phosphors, and disposing in normal waste.

    Most of the objections to CFLs have been eliminated as the technology matured. Mercury has been almost eliminated. Color rendition is much improved and they start more quickly when cold than early models. There is little or no flicker. Costs have come down.

    Most of the objections come from rehashing of the weaknesses of CFLs from twenty or more years ago or earlier tube-type fluorescent lamps.

  4. P2O2
    Cracow, Poland
    December 20, 2011, 8:29 am

    Thank God, the stupidity with CLFs may be stopped (for a while at least). What baffles me a lot is why so much people want to live in their own “morgues” instead of traditional “sunny” houses.


  5. Laura Riddell
    Central California
    December 19, 2011, 2:51 pm

    I don’t like the new bulbs because they do not give you true color. My purple pillow turnes blue under these light, I do a lot of bread work with natural stone and crystal and the CFL lights makes it impossible to tell true color of any of them. I don’t like that it take a few minutes for them to come to full power. Keep trying, I’m sure they will eventually take care of all of my complaints.

  6. JJ
    December 19, 2011, 1:48 pm

    I agree with Moonmover. While I feel there are numerous benefits to using CFL and halogen lights I don’t necessarily think the government should mandate their sale. We’ve switched over all of our bulbs because we are conscious minded consumers and the monthly electricity savings speak for themselves. There are still applications where a standard bulb is best. I think that a government mandate dictating the type of bulbs that can be produced is not fruitful, now if we’re talking about upping the minimum MPG on vehicles sold in the US, I think that will have a larger impact for global good.

  7. Marianne Lavelle
    December 19, 2011, 11:41 am

    Thanks so much for your comments, Moonmover and Safety. Since I have a youngster at home, I really do understand the concern about mercury and am hoping that mercury-free LED technology continues to make rapid advances. But until then, advanced halogen bulbs have no mercury. And as for CFLs, yes, they have mercury. But the glass thermometer my mother used to check me and my siblings for fevers when we were young had 125 times the amount of mercury as a CFL bulb. If a CFL bulb breaks, you do not have to call in a squad, but air out the room and clean it up thoroughly. There are plenty of recycling centers for disposing used bulbs. Here’s a good source of information on CFLs and mercury: Energy Star Fact Sheet

  8. Safety
    December 19, 2011, 2:14 am

    No, Moonmover. Considering the mercury risk of these more “efficient” light bulbs, I go with the older versions. We’ve broken these new ones before and you are supposed to call a squad to come clean it up. Who the heck’s going to do that? I’d take these less efficient light bulb over the health risk.

  9. Moonmover
    December 18, 2011, 10:56 am

    People will buy more efficient lightbulbs because it will save them money. The transition is already happening. There is no need for the government to become involved in this.