The light bulb ‘ban’

As you probably know by now, Michigan Rep. Fred Upton has won the race for chair of the House Energy and Commerce Committee, in what Politico calls a “perfect campaign” to defend his record against accusations that he’s not conservative enough.

Relax, man. Black lights aren't being banned. (Photo by mtsofan via Creative Commons)

One of Upton’s votes that drew fire was for the much-misunderstood Energy Independence and Security Act of 2007 (warning: huge PDF, Wikipedia summary here), popularly known today as the “incandescent light bulb ban.” The bill, which passed with bipartisan support and was signed by President Bush, requires 25 percent greater efficiency for general-purpose light bulbs, which, to be fair, does effectively phase out most household incandescent bulbs.

That has caused some to inaccurately portray the law as a sweeping government “ban” on incandescent bulbs, forcing people to switch to those weirdo CFLs in an act of government oppression unrivaled since the Stamp Act.

In one extreme case, a Daily Caller reader who chose to remain anonymous is stockpiling incandescent bulbs the way people stashed the original Coca-Cola before New Coke was released. “I buy different wattages,” he explains, including 40-watt bulbs, which will still be available after the law takes effect.

In reality (you’ll find I use that phrase a lot on this blog), the law doesn’t ban incandescent bulbs. It makes a long list of exceptions. Including:

  • 40 watt bulbs (or less)
  • Appliance bulbs
  • Bug lights
  • Black lights (hang on to those Pink Floyd posters!)
  • Three-way bulbs
  • “Rough-service” bulbs
  • … and others. The law also includes a host of other energy efficiency measures and, curiously, new federal standards for swimming pool drains.

    The exceptions exist with good reason. Most CFLs, for instance, don’t work with dimmer switches (you can get CFLs that do, but they don’t have as wide a range as incandescent) and because they need to warm up to fully function, they’re not the best for outdoor applications. You’ll still be able to buy halogen bulbs, which have all the advantages of incandescents but use less energy and last longer (I have one in my front porch light), as well as LEDs, which are cost-prohibitive for many people but use a tiny fraction of the energy of a regular bulb.

    Light bulb makers are beginning to push back against some of the more absurd claims about the law. In a story on ClimateWire (subscription required), Randy Moorhead, a VP at Philips Electronics, has this to say:

    “This has been very frustrating … to hear people say incandescent light bulbs were banned. That is absolutely incorrect. People are under the mis-impression that CFLs are their only choice. That is not true.”

    And earlier this year, General Electric fought back against claims by Rep. Joe Barton that the “ban” was forcing the closure of a light bulb factory in Virginia.

    The actual culprit?

    “It’s really consumer buying patterns,” James Campbell of G.E.’s consumer and industrial unit said in a 2007 interview. “We’re really trying to be aggressive here and take the lead, restructuring plants and right-sizing ourselves to leverage what we see in the market.”

    34 thoughts on “The light bulb ‘ban’

    1. Exactly what part of the word “ban” do you not understand? The law forces an efficiency that isn’t technically possible with current incandescent bulbs. Therefore, the law creates a de facto ban on such bulbs. In 2012 we will not be able to purchase 100W bulbs; as of 2014 the 40W incandescents will be banned. Yes, banned.

      What if we required performance standards of journalists, to require them to remain politically neutral? In that case, you would be out of a job. I think you would claim at that point that you were “banned” from being hired, but then that would turn your own logic on its head.

    2. Jennifer, there are advanced incandescent (halogen) bulbs you can buy today that meet the new standards. I have two of them in my porchlights.

      The 2007 energy law doesn’t “ban” any particular technology any more than CAFE standards ban V-8 engines in cars.

    3. I appreciate that you have responded. However, I find your conflation of “halogen” and “incandescent” to be tendentious and deliberately misleading.

      Please provide a link to a website showing us a 100-watt conventional (non-halogen) incandescent light bulb that meets the new standards.

      And thus please explain in what way the 2007 energy law does not ban conventional (non-halogen) incandescent 100 watt light bulbs.

    4. Wattage is a measure of energy consumption, not brightness.

      A 72-watt halogen is equivalent to a 100-watt “old” incandescent.

      Same brightness, less energy consumption, longer lasting bulb. Everyone wins.

    5. Like a politician, you avoid answering the basic challenge to your position by trying to change the subject. (Your comments about wattage are completely irrelevant to the discussion.)

      You claim that there is no “ban” on conventional incandescent light bulbs. Yet given that conventional incandescents cannot attain the new performance standards, there is indeed a de facto ban on such bulbs. Period. End of story.

      Let’s look at the same issue in a different context. Let’s say your website imposes a new performance standard that requires all posted stories to support particular political views. The website owner would say, “We do not ban stories with opposing political views. But those stories simply don’t meet our performance standards.” And the website owner would be lying, because actually the performance standards would have imposed a de facto ban on opposing political viewpoints.

      A lie by any other name is still a lie. And a ban is a ban. The more you obfuscate, the clearer become your true politically-minded intentions and your lack of journalistic integrity.

    6. Jennifer, the 2007 energy law had wide bipartisan support and was signed by President Bush. There was nothing political about it until some fringe elements decided this year to use it to manufacture a wedge issue.
      The word “ban” mischaracterizes what the law actually does. It’s deliberately misleading language designed to inflame and outrage. It’s caused people to believe that they’re being forced to buy a specific type of light bulb, and that simply isn’t true.
      I’d submit, respectfully, that you’re the one engaging in politics here.

    7. Let’s make this very simple.

      In 2012, will I be able to legally purchase a 100-watt conventional incandescent light bulb in the U.S.?

    8. And by the way, people don’t get bent out of shape because they “believe that they’re being forced to buy a specific type of light bulb.”

      They get angry because they are being prevented from buying the light bulb of their choice. The ban limits that choice.

      Definition of “ban”: Noun: An official or legal prohibition: “a ban on cigarette advertising”.

      The law imposes a legal prohibition on the purchase of 100-watt conventional incandescent light bulbs in the U.S. in 2012.

      This is not about politics; it is about journalistic integrity. You are saying “there is no ban” but in fact there is a ban. You are deliberately misleading your readers. I assume you are doing this for political motives but there may be other reasons–so let’s leave politics aside and focus on accuracy and truthfulness.

      You must change this article and call it a ban. The law does not ban halogens; it does not force me to purchase a particular kind of light bulb. But as of 2012 it will, if not repealed, ban the purchase of conventional 100-watt light bulbs in the U.S.

      It is a shame that your readers should have to read the truth from a commenter rather than from the news-writer.

    9. In 2012, you’ll be able to purchase – and you can purchase now – an incandescent bulb (“halogen” and “incandescent” in common use refer to different applications of the same technology) that puts out the exact same amount of light as a current 100 watt bulb, but uses only 72 watts.
      That’s not a “ban” on anything. That’s an efficiency standard, just like we have for refrigerators, washing machines and cars.

    10. No, “halogen” and “incandescent” IN COMMON USE refer to two different types of light fixtures. And we all know the difference between those sorts of fixtures. Saying that halogen bulbs are technically “incandescent” bulbs obscures the fundamental truth that the 2007 bipartisan law, passed under Bush, does indeed ban conventional incandescent bulbs.

      My freedom to choose which light bulbs I purchase–and for which I pay the energy bills–is about to be constricted in 2012. There is no justifiable reason for this. The energy savings are far too low compared to the limitations of my freedom. I use all types of bulbs–CFLs, tube fluorescents, halogens, and incandescents. And I also do not use many other high-wattage-consumption appliances that others use routinely. Yet many high-wattage appliances will remain in wide use while my simple desire to read by the warm glowing light of a 100-watt incandescent will be taken away.

      It is my prerogative to read by the kind of bulb I want, and to pay the energy costs that act incurs. And no halogen, CFL, or other bulb currently on the market fills that particular niche for me.

      What is so hard for you to get about the inherent unfairness of this ban?

    11. Whether the law is “unfair” or not isn’t for me to judge. The point of my post was that referring to it as a “ban” miscontrues its language and intent.
      All the law says is that a bulb that puts out X lumens of light can consume no more than Y watts of power. Then it lays out a whole list of exceptions, including three-way bulbs, which will still be available if you prefer to have an exposed-filament reading light.
      Unfair? Maybe. But efficiency standards are nevertheless in the public interest – Roger Pielke, Jr. does a good job explaining why in a recent column.

    12. No, actually, it WAS the express intent of this portion of the bill to ban the conventional incandescent light bulb. This type of bulb was specifically targeted because it heats more than it illuminates. Those who supported the bill apparently did not realize that the bulb has many unique advantages in addition to its acknowledged disadvantages. Or perhaps the main supporters–like G.E., from what I hear–had something else to gain from the bill.

      The word “ban” does not exist in most legislation that actually does “ban” specific items, including cigarette advertising. A ban is a ban because it bans something in fact, and not because it includes the word “ban” in its wording.

      Robert Pielke is just another benighted individual trying to justify this piece of bad legislation by bringing up irrelevant subject matter. Uniformity of standards has nothing to do with performance standards. Setting uniform standards allows us to agree on the terms used when we look at performance standards (so that for example we can agree on how to measure watts and lumens), but setting performance standards (how many lumens a bulb must emit per watt) is quite a different matter. Pielke tries to sound erudite and authoritative as he misleads his readers.

    13. The intent of the law is to reduce energy consumption. The language of the law doesn’t prohibit any specific technology – incandescent bulbs that meet the standards or are exempted will still be available.
      I suppose you could similarly argue that efficiency standards for appliances constitute a ban on certain models, and some will invariably go to the mat arguing that they should be allowed to choose the old, inefficient dishwasher that they say gets their plates cleaner. But, strangely, we don’t hear much about the “inefficient dishwasher ban.” It just doesn’t roll off the tongue quite as nicely as “light bulb ban.”
      Arguably, an effect of any such standard is to limit consumer choice. But that’s not necessarily the intent.
      Sorry, but I stand by my original point that calling such a rule a “ban” is misleading. That’s not a political choice, in fact, it’s just the opposite.

    14. The intent of the law does not justify the ban. There are many ways to conserve energy. The way chosen does not sit well with many of us, because the ban is an unwelcome intrusion into our freedom of choice.

      Your website, like that of “Media Matters” and other political websites, misleads the public by claiming “this is not a ban.”

      I could use logic identical to yours in order to claim that “there is no ban on cigarette TV advertising.” After all, the word ban is never used in that law. And I can say, “TV advertisers can advertise any product they want, as long as they meet certain performance criteria. Of course, we can argue about whether the performance criteria is correct….”

      But all the while, I would annoyingly keep saying “no, it’s not a ban.”

      Meanwhile, everyone in their right mind would admit that yes, actually, it IS a ban.

      In similar fashion, like Media Matters and other political websites, you will simply go on being deceptive about this particular ban in a coy and misleading way.

    15. The problem with your analogy is that there actually is a ban on cigarette advertising. The law uses words like “prohibits” and “makes unlawful” and says explicitly that the thing being prohibited and made unlawful is the advertising of tobacco products.
      So, yes, I would wholeheartedly agree that there is a ban on cigarette advertising.
      I’m sorry, but I just don’t see what’s “misleading” or “deceptive” about describing the law accurately and precisely. If people don’t like what the law does, I think they can make up their own minds without being cajoled by politically loaded language.

    16. Where do you see the word “ban” in the law against cigarette advertising? Answer: you don’t. It’s not there.

      Thus, there is no ban against cigarette advertising. You’re just overreacting because you think the government is telling you what kind of advertising you have to watch. But in fact there is no ban on cigarette advertising. You and the rest of the public were misled.

    17. The absence or presence of the specific word “ban” in the text of the law isn’t the issue. Your analogy doesn’t make any sense.

    18. If outlawing the sale of conventional incandescent light bulbs is not a ban, then outlawing the TV airing of cigarette advertising is not a ban.

    19. The sale of conventional incandescent light bulbs has not been outlawed.
      Some types of incandescent bulbs don’t conform to the law and can’t be sold, but others do and will continue to be available. That was the whole point of my post.

    20. Your statement is incorrect: the sale of 100-watt conventional incandescent bulbs WILL BE OUTLAWED in 2012 unless part of the 2007 law is repealed.

      Saying “some types don’t conform” when in fact you mean the very popular 100-watt bulbs, is deliberate deception. And presumably you are bright enough to realize that.

    21. Jennifer, did you even read the post?
      What part of “does effectively phase out most household incandescent bulbs” is deceptive?
      If I put “PHASE OUT” in all caps to make it extra scary, would that be better?

    22. The entire purpose of your article, including the title, is to gainsay the fact that there is indeed a ban on most household incandescent light bulbs. Saying “phase out” is a euphemism. I could just as easily say TV cigarette advertising was “phased out” rather than banned.

      You are not admitting that indeed the 2007 law imposes a ban on most household incandescent light bulbs. As such, you are distorting facts. That is not good journalism.

    23. Unlike the prohibition on cigarette advertising, the energy efficiency law does not impose a ban on anything. It imposes efficiency standards.
      To call the law a “ban” is to focus on only one of its effects and distort its purpose. That would be agitprop, not journalism.
      You’ve made your point abundantly clear, but I respectfully disagree, and the work of the majority of respectable news outlets supports my position.
      Impugn my professionalism all you want, I’m not going to take up your political gauntlet for you.

    24. I want to understand this correctly. As I understand you, you are saying that the following scenario does NOT constitute a “ban”:

      1. We have used conventional household incandescent light bulbs, including 100 watt bulbs, for many years.

      2. As of 2012, new manufacturing standards will be imposed on the light bulb industry.

      3. As a result of those new standards, certain light bulbs, which up till now have been freely sold, will no longer be available.

      4. In fact, it will be illegal to sell those formerly easy-to-purchase bulbs.

      Are you saying that this is not a ban? In other words, are you saying that making it illegal to sell a certain previously-available class of manufactured goods, simply as a result of that class of goods not complying with new standards, is NOT a ban?

      I just want to see whether I am understanding your reasoning correctly.

    25. That’s not what I’m saying at all.
      It’s really quite simple. What I’m saying is, calling the 2007 energy law an “incandescent light bulb ban” is inaccurate, incomplete and misleading, for reasons I’ve described ad nauseum above.

    26. Ken, you are skirting the question. I will explain.

      What is a ban? A ban is a new prohibition of an act that was previously legal. Period. Let’s look at a very clear example.

      It is universally acknowledged that there is a “ban on lead paint.” Yes, everyone calls it a “ban on lead paint,” including the U.S. Consumer Products Safety Commission ( and many news sources you would no doubt find respectable.

      The “BAN on lead paint” did not actually completely prohibit lead in paint, but simply imposed a NEW PERFORMANCE STANDARD for the amount of lead that could be contained in paints. The ban thereby prohibited the sale of many types of paint previously available. Current paint still contains lead, but just at lower levels than were previously allowed. This is EXACTLY the same as the “ban on incandescent light bulbs” which imposes a new performance standard on the amount of lumens per watt, and thereby prohibits the sale of many types of bulbs previously available, while still allowing the sale of some incandescents.

      THERE IS NO FUNDAMENTAL DIFFERENCE BETWEEN THESE EXAMPLES. What you and the other media outlets are not getting is that THE NEW REGULATORY CONTROL OF LIGHT BULBS CREATES A BAN, just as much as the new regulatory control of lead in paint created a ban. IT IS COMPLETELY ACCURATE TO SAY THAT THE 2007 LAW IS A BAN ON CONVENTIONAL INCANDESCENTS. It is not the word “BAN” that is misleading. What is misleading are your efforts, and the efforts of various other media outlets, to softpedal this issue and tell the public that they are overreacting and that “calling it a ban is wrong.”

      I appreciate your general willingness to respond to queries, and would appreciate your addressing this critical and central issue about the word “ban,” which has (as you have pointed out) been discussed in many media outlets. Many people in the general public are generally angry about media outlets’ lack of willingness to give the news straight. Since your articles are generally full of very useful facts, and since you have responded willingly to questions from a reader, your integrity is presumably higher than most, so your response on this issue would be very meaningful.

      I understand that you spoke to selected industry representatives who bristled at the word “ban,” and that you need to maintain your relationships with them in order to get good information in the future. But in point of fact, and according to modern universal standards of English language use, the word “ban” is indeed entirely appropriate in this instance.

      Perhaps you could forward this to one of the representatives from industry, such as Randy Moorhead at Philips Electronics, and see what he has to say. He might know his own industry backwards and forwards, but if he’s going to try to re-define English words in common use, that’s going well above his pay grade.

    27. I’ve encountered a number of people who think that all incandescent bulbs are being banned, and they’ll be forced to buy CFLs, because they keep hearing the words “incandescent light bulb ban” followed by someone on TV griping about CFLs.
      So they wonder how they’re going to find bulbs that work in their garage door opener, or in the oven, or any number of other applications where CFLs simply don’t work.
      But in reality, conventional incandescent bulbs for those applications, and many others, will still be available for sale. So it simply isn’t accurate to call the law a “ban on conventional incandescent bulbs.”

    28. The vast majority of incandescent bulbs used are in the 100w, 75w, and 60w range. So I find it hard to believe that most people who hear about the incandescent ban are worried about their oven lights or garage door openers. I would suggest that you have sampled a very non-representational portion of the consumer population, and that most people are actually concerned about the loss of ability to purchase 100w and 75w conventional incandescent bulbs.

      In every single ban that has ever existed, there are exceptions and exemptions. They do not mitigate the fact that the ban is a ban. In this instance, the exemptions will make no material difference for the vast majority of consumers. Thus, the oven and garage door lights do not matter when we are determining the true nature of the incandescent legislation.

      In all senses and meanings, this is truly a ban!

      Could it be that your personal opinion (agreeing with the legislation) is coloring your coverage of this issue?

    29. If the majority of people are aware they won’t be able to purchase those bulbs, then they clearly aren’t being deceived about the effects of the law – by me or anyone else.
      Gallup conducted a poll in February that found the vast majority of people (84%) are satisfied with the alternatives to conventional incandescent bulbs.
      If you want to engage in the political process to try to get the law overturned, that’s your right, and I encourage you to do so. But I would respectfully suggest that there may be more productive ways to do so than persisting in trying to get me to join in the campaign.

    30. The irresponsibility of reporting inaccurate news (and my position is that “this is not a ban” is inaccurate) is not in any way excused because you think most people know the truth. If you report that the White House is in Detroit, and think it’s OK to do that because most people know the White House is actually in D.C., that’s simply not good journalism.

      In the context of this discussion, neither the Gallup poll nor either of our personal feelings about this law is relevant. This discussion is about setting the record straight on one issue: is it accurate to call this law a ban on conventional incandescent light bulbs?

      I have given an abudance of careful reasoning and evidence to prove that this should truly be called a ban, just as the “ban on lead paint” was called a ban. So far, all you have done is to tell me things about what people think about the bill and why it’s a good bill.

      I still submit that you are skirting the core issue, which is about journalistic integrity and accuracy. If you can present any direct reasoning and evidence to refute what I have already shown regarding the appropriateness of the word “ban,” let’s see it.

    31. The Gallup poll is relevant because you said most people were worried about losing access to incandescent bulbs. The poll results show pretty clearly that isn’t true.
      To your specific question.
      “Is it accurate to call this law a ban on conventional incandescent light bulbs?”
      Once again, it is not, because you’ll still be able to walk into the store and buy certain types of conventional incandescent light bulbs. And if someone develops a conventional incandescent bulb that meets the standard, they’ll be able to sell it.
      More to the point, the phrasing I initially rejected was “incandescent light bulb ban.” That’s even more misleading because halogen bulbs are a type of incandescent bulb.
      The lead paint ban is a better analogy than the one you tried before, but it’s still a red herring. The law contains exceptions, but they are for industrial products not readily available to consumers. You can’t go down to Lowe’s and buy a bucket of highway-striping paint. And while the bulb law leaves the door open to potential new products, there are no circumstances when you’ll be able to sell lead-based house paint ever again.
      Jennifer – you’re the one accusing me of bad journalism. It’s your burden to show that what I’ve written is incorrect or misleading. Suggesting an alternate phrasing that you prefer doesn’t cut it. I fully understand your point, but you haven’t made the case that my description of the law is inaccurate, and I’m getting tired of repeating myself.
      I appreciate your passion for the issue and your civility, but I think we’ve reached a point where it’s best to agree to disagree and move on.
      Last word is all yours. Thanks for reading, and feel free to jump in any time you have a question or concern.

    32. I appreciate both your civility and patience, and your willingness to be direct. I agree it is time to move on.

      I’ll also agree to revise my definition: “a ban on the vast majority of today’s conventional household incandescent light bulbs between 40w and 100w.” Not exactly headline material, but I’d prefer to be accurate. Thanks again for your thoughtful replies.

    33. What the incandescent ban eggheads don’t realize is that only an incandescent bulb can be used for lighting and gentle heating of something. At my job incandescents are used to heat things and they work great because it’s very obvious when one’s not working. There are many people including pet owners who use them for this who will have no good option when they are gone.

    34. KKrause – you’ll have plenty of options. There are exceptions for rough-duty bulbs, for instance, which I assume would be used in a commercial application. And halogens get plenty hot (try to grab one with your bare hand if you don’t believe me) for keeping gerbils warm.