The House Republican majority moved Friday to keep old-style incandescent light bulbs around a bit longer, voting to block enforcement of new lighting efficiency rules and setting up a high-wattage fight with the Democratic-controlled Senate.
After failing earlier in the week to repeal the new standards, the House passed a bill that would bar the Energy Department from spending money next year to enforce them.
"If a manufacturer should choose to continue to make 100-watt bulbs, they would be permitted under this language, as there is clearly a market based on the thousands of consumers who have contacted Congress upset about their inability to buy 100-watt light bulbs," said Rep. Michael C. Burgess (R-Texas), author of the measure, which passed on a voice vote. "This is about the consumer driving the market, not the federal government deciding the market."
But the Senate version of the energy appropriations bill will be written by a committee chaired by Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.), whose state has already implemented the new rules.
Thus, the humble light bulb could become another contentious issue for negotiations between the House and Senate.
Federal energy legislation signed by President George W. Bush in 2007 phases out the old incandescents over three years, starting with 100-watt bulbs next Jan. 1, in favor of more efficient lighting.
Republicans have made the light bulb rules a symbol of federal regulatory excess. Supporters say they will save energy and reduce greenhouse emissions. Consumers, they say, will still be able to buy a new model of incandescents that will cost more, but save money over time because they will be more efficient. Compact, squiggly-shaped fluorescent bulbs, an alternative to the old-style incandescent, have been criticized as more costly, containing mercury and mostly made in China.
Among the most outspoken critics of the new rules have been congressmen from Texas, which recently enacted legislation seeking to get around the federal law by declaring that incandescent bulbs — if made and sold only in Texas— do not involve interstate commerce and therefore are not subject to federal regulation.
Domestic bulb manufacturers are moving to produce more energy-efficient bulbs, said Kyle Pitsor, vice president of government relations for the National Electrical Manufacturers Assn. But he expressed concern that the legislation could lead foreign manufacturers to send to the U.S. bulbs that do not meet the new rules, undermining U.S. jobs.
Energy Department spokesman Damien LaVera said, "We continue to believe that it is a bad idea to roll back common-sense, bipartisan standards that save American families $6 billion per year by saving energy at a time when families are already struggling to pay their energy bills. "
"It's up to the Senate to see the light and remove this anti-consumer pro-pollution amendment that would block enforcement of modern efficiency standards," said Daniel J. Weiss of the liberal Center for American Progress.