Does the Government Have a Right to Tell Us Which Light Bulbs to Buy?

In U.S. Rep. Michele Bachmann’s response to President Obama’s State of the Union speech, the Minnesota congresswoman asserted that the federal government “now tells us which light bulbs to buy.” Her message: the government is inappropriately intruding into our lives and our everyday decisions.

On the surface you can see the typical political lines being drawn in a debate about the role of government in our lives, but if you examine this issue a little deeper it is interesting to see who really stands to benefit.

Of course Rep. Bachmann’s comment refers to the Energy Independence and Security Act of 2007 signed into law by President George W. Bush. Basically this is a very broad reaching law that encourages manufacturers to develop higher efficiency products. Lighting is among those industries directly impacted. The government is not telling any business or consumer which bulb they will have to buy, but manufacturers are expected to improve incandescent and other bulb technologies to meet the higher efficiency standards starting January 2012.

Consumers will continue to have the right to put whatever bulb they want into any socket in their home. Many of the decorative incandescent lamps so popular in residential lighting are exempt from this law anyhow. Actually, the law will give consumers more choices! There will be more energy efficient bulbs in the market that will save consumers money in energy use. Additionally most of the old favorite lamps will still be available, but in more efficient versions.

Businesses will also like the new laws. The Big Three bulb manufacturers were behind this bill from the start. They realize that they will make more money selling new technology versus the conventional cheap lamps that were yielding little profit. Lighting manufacturers are happy to endorse the Act because they now have a reason to update their products and sell a new generation of fixtures based on these new efficient technologies. Theoretically, retailers will sell more products when the new law goes into effect because consumers will find the more efficient fixtures and bulbs much more appealing.

Many consumers, architects and specifiers want to be on the cutting-edge of this new technology, but in the past had to look long and hard to seek out these exclusive new products. Now their local store will carry all of these new and efficient choices.

Bachman, the sponsor of the failed Light Bulb Freedom of Choice Act, has got it wrong. It seems to me that new technology benefits a great majority of people, The new light bulb efficiency standards will generate more sales for manufacturers and retailers. Energy efficient technology will help consumers save money on their electricity bills without much more effort than screwing in a new bulb. In turn this new law will help reduce energy use across this country. I don’t agree with Michele Bachmann; there really is no big downside to this law.


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