House Votes to Defund Enforcement of EISA Light Bulb Efficiency Regulations

July 22, 2011
Amid all the wrangling over the nation’s debt ceiling, the U.S. House of Representatives last week had lighting on its mind

Amid all the wrangling over the nation’s debt ceiling, the U.S. House of Representatives last week had lighting on its mind. On Tuesday, the House considered but failed to pass a bill that would have repealed the energy-efficiency standards for lighting that are part of the Energy Independence and Security Act of 2007 (EISA).

Not content to consider the matter settled, the House on Friday passed an amendment to an energy and water appropriations bill that would deny the Department of Energy the funding to enforce the EISA light bulb efficiency regulations.

The EISA efficiency requirements have become a symbolic rallying point in Congressional Republicans’ fight against what they consider government overreach into the personal choices of American citizens.

The EISA standards require reductions of at least 28 percent in the energy consumption of incandescent lamps, beginning with 100W lamps on Jan. 1, 2012, and expanding to include 60W bulbs in 2014.

The repeal bill introduced Tuesday, titled the Better Use of Light Bulbs (BULB) Act, was sponsored by Rep. Joe Barton (R-Texas). It won a majority of votes, 233-193, but failed to attract the two-thirds majority required for passage.

Friday’s amendment to H.R. 2354, the 2012 Energy and Water Appropriations Act, was introduced by Rep. Michael Burgess (R-Texas) and approved on a voice vote. It would deny funding for the DOE’s enforcement of the lighting efficiency regulations until Sept. 30, 2012. The energy and water bill was passed by the House on a vote of 219-196 and referred to the Senate Committee on Appropriations.

The language defunding lighting efficiency enforcement is expected to face greater opposition in the Democrat-controlled Senate.

Several Republicans joined Democrats to reject a proposal to gut funding from energy efficiency research at the Department of Energy.

The clamor over antiquated lamps is widely seen as confirmation of the House’s more conservative stance since the 2010 congressional elections put the Tea Party at center stage. EISA passed in 2007 with significant bipartisan support and was signed into law by President George W. Bush. In fact, the lighting-efficiency language was co-sponsored by Rep. Fred Upton (R-Mich.), who is now chairman of the House Energy and Commerce Committee. Upton came under fire during his campaign for the Energy and Commerce chair over his past support for higher standards, and is said to have been instrumental in working behind the scenes to promote the repeal legislation Tuesday and voted in favor of it.

“It was never my goal for Washington to decide what type of light bulbs Americans should use,” Upton said in a statement. “The public response on this issue is a clear signal that markets — not governments — should be driving technological advancements.”

The National Electrical Manufacturers Association (NEMA) mounted a campaign to educate Congressional staffers about the real impact of the EISA lighting efficiency requirements in anticipation of last week’s vote. Kyle Pitsor, NEMA’s VP of Government Relations, said the repeal efforts were based on a widespread misunderstanding. Opponents of the standards frequently describe it as a ban on incandescent bulbs, but incandescent lamps will continue to be sold. They’ll just have to be more efficient.

Lighting manufacturers including the big three — GE, Philips and Osram Sylvania — have new incandescent lamps on the market that meet the EISA efficiency requirements, though they do come at a higher price point.

Opposition to the regulations has also raised a chorus of complaints about the prevailing alternative to the standard incandescent, the compact fluorescent lamp (CFL), which is widely criticized for shortcomings in color rendering, start-up time, dimmability, its use of small amounts of mercury and its higher initial cost. NEMA reported earlier this month that CFL shipments have slowed for four consecutive quarters after three years of market-share growth while incandescent lamp shipments posted a small rebound. Solid-state lighting technology such as LEDs is expected to eventually replace incandescents, but lamps intended for general lighting applications are still significantly more expensive and generally not yet ready for prime time.