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House GOP fails to repeal light bulb efficiency requirement

Republicans object to new rules to phase out incandescent bulbs, casting the standards as a symbol of regulatory overreach. They may try again in the House, but are unlikely to succeed in the Democratic-controlled Senate.

July 12, 2011|By Richard Simon, Los Angeles Times
  • A compact fluorescent bulb and a standard incandescent light bulb.
A compact fluorescent bulb and a standard incandescent light bulb. (Glenn Koenig / Los Angeles…)

Reporting from Washington — Opponents of the federal phaseout of old-style incandescent light bulbs failed in the House on Tuesday to repeal the requirement for more efficient lighting but are expected to try again soon.

Republicans who have portrayed the new light bulb efficiency rules as a symbol of Washington regulatory overreach fell short of the two-thirds majority required for expedited action on the repeal measure, the Better Use of Our Light Bulbs, or BULB, Act.

But with a 233-193 vote in favor of it, the House GOP leadership may bring it back for approval under procedures that require only a simple majority. The repeal faces dim prospects in the Democratic-controlled Senate, however.

"I don't think it will go anywhere," said Sen. Barbara Boxer (D-Calif.).

"We're not opposed to new technology," Rep. Joe L. Barton (R-Texas), leader of the repeal effort, said during the debate this week. "We're saying let people make their own choices. Why in the world does the federal government have to tell people what kind of lights to use in their home?"

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.

California has already implemented the new standards. Democratic leaders of the California Senate sent a letter to the state's congressional delegation urging the bill's defeat, contending that it would invalidate the state's light bulb standards.

But Texas 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. A number of other states are considering following suit.

The congressional vote came after supporters of the new rules displayed a more efficient model of incandescent light bulb on the House floor, noting that consumers will still be able to buy incandescents instead of the compact, curly-shaped fluorescent bulbs that have drawn criticism because they are more costly to produce, contain mercury and are made mainly in China.

The Obama administration, along with a diverse coalition that includes Thomas Edison's descendents, bulb manufacturers, the United Steelworkers and consumer and environmental groups, opposes the repeal

"In Congress we don't always agree on much, but for the last 25 years we have been able to agree on energy efficiency," said Rep. Mike Doyle (D-Pa.).

Opponents of the rules pointed to the difference in cost. "Let people decide whether they want to pay $6 per light bulb or 37.5 cents," Barton said.

"The Model T Ford is not outlawed," added Rep. Ted Poe, another Texas Republican. "You can still buy one if you can find one. But the federal government hadn't banned it just because it's inefficient."

But supporters of the rules argued that more efficient bulbs will save consumers money over time.

richard.simon@latimes.com

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