Americans are advised at every turn to use energy-efficient light bulbs. That means getting rid of the incandescent light bulbs with technology that dates back to Thomas Edison and replacing them with fluorescent or LED bulbs that are touted as 70-75% more energy efficient, longer-lasting and better for the environment.
But should there be a mandate to do so?
President George W. Bush thought so. In 2007, he began the process of doing away with incandescent bulbs, with the full effect scheduled to come this January with a ban on importing the bulbs.
President Donald Trump has rescinded the ban. And while he draws the ire of many for such, many Americans will appreciate that the president has struck a blow for freedom of choice.
Removing the import ban is the key to maintaining the availability of incandescent bulbs. That’s because profit margins on producing the bulbs are not high enough to overcome the cost of manufacturing them here due to other federal regulations, according to a column for InsideSources.com by Eric Peters, who has been covering transportation and regulatory issues for the last 25 years. Because it is so cheap to make incandescents, they are still being produced in countries like China, where the regulatory burden on manufacturing is still low enough that it’s economically viable not only to manufacture them but to export them.
Though more efficient in use of electricity and less polluting in terms of greenhouse gases, fluorescent and LED bulbs are not environmental saviors. In the case of fluorescent lights, the mercury inside is poisonous and a health hazard.
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The lights also are much more expensive than incandescent bulbs. Peters notes a fluorescent-equivalent bulb costs three times as much to buy — about $3 per bulb vs. about a buck for the 75-watt incandescent. LED lights are about $5 each for a 75-watt equivalent.
But there are other reasons people want incandescent bulbs. Peters writes:
• “CFLs (fluorescent lights) are notorious for producing a bleak, even funereal light that gives a room the ambiance of a funeral parlor. This is a function of the way CFLs make light, which is by exciting argon and mercury vapor inside a spiral glass tube; this generates ultra-violet light (which can’t be seen as visible light), which then excites a phosphorescent coating on the inside surface of the spiral glass. This emits the visible — and often, funereal — light.”
• “CFLs are ‘on-off’ only; their light output can’t be modulated using a dimmer. Which means replacing the fixture if incandescents aren’t available.”
• “CFLs also take a moment to ‘light off.’ … For many people, this is as unappealing as having to flush a low-flow toilet (another government-mandated ‘efficiency’) twice instead of once to get the job done.”
• “LED lights produce more pleasant light than CFLs and also immediate light; they sometimes work with dimmer switches, too, but not always. No toxic mercury inside them, either. But they are even more expensive than CFLs … and they don’t necessarily work with every fixture originally designed for incandescents.”
Many people still want the option of using an incandescent light bulb – and they shouldn’t be told by government they cannot.
As Peters concludes: “If they’re willing to buy light bulbs more often — and pay a bit more for the electricity used to light them — isn’t that their right in a free market? And if, as we are assured, CFLs and LEDs are superior on the merits, why is it necessary to ban their competition?”
All Trump did was reinstate freedom of choice.