Denying the right to choose light bulbs sparks spirited debate

As well-intentioned as they may be, new regulations attempting to enforce rules about energy efficient lighting have set off charges of life-altering interference almost as intense as that other “choice” issue sparked by the Supreme Court back in 1973.

Although the bulb debate is unlikely to burn with the intensity of the abortion issue or result in threats against light bulb engineers, it has brought out some startlingly strong wording by average citizens, environmental activists, legislators and lobbyists.  In California and Arizona, strong words are showing up in the editorial pages of publications and on the floors of legislatures. 

Jan Denny of Lincoln, CA writes in the Sacramento Bee:

     “….we ‘dim-bulbed,’ freedom-loving Americans want the government to stop telling us how to live our lives, notwithstanding the efficacy of ‘saving the environment.’” 

Donna McCloskey of Auburn, CA complains that compact fluorescent (CFL) bulbs throw off an unpleasant yellow tinge and contain mercury making them problems for disposal.

Writing to the editor of the New York Times, Tucson resident and U of A Professor Charles Stafford tries to find a middle ground.  Noting that “the electrical energy ‘wasted’ by incandescent bulbs is converted with 100 percent efficiency into heat,” the physics professor offers the following compromise:

      “use high-efficiency bulbs in the summer months, but use the less efficient but more pleasant incandescent bulbs during those long winter nights.”

The Arizona House of Representatives is so alarmed by the federal government’s intrusion into the right of Americans to choose their lighting that they are holding hearings on HB-2337, which would attempt to assert states’ rights over federal law to protect the lowly, rapidly obsolescing incandescent bulb.  Representative Olivia Cajera-Bedford (D-District 27) made one reason clear why she was voting in favor of the constitutionally questionable law – “Mr. Chairman, it really disturbs the ambience of putting on makeup.”  Not to be outdone, other members of the House Commerce Committee let it be known that creating patio ambience with curlicue CFLs was a near impossibility and that they were buying up incandescent decorative lights “by the thousands” in anticipation of the new law.

The original federal law  – passed in 2007 – was a Republican initiative, supported by President George W. Bush and lobbied for by the lighting industry and the big box stores such as Lowe’s and Home Depot, which sell the greatest number of CFL bulbs.  The fiercest opposition today comes from Republican presidential candidate Michele Bachmann and the Tea Party, both of which resent overbearing governmental intrusion into private life.

But perhaps more cogent than any other argument is the one made by Louise Mehler of Sacramento on the letters page  of the July 14 Sacramento Bee:

    “I’ve searched diligently, in stores and online, but have yet to find a source for energy-efficient bulbs manufactured anywhere other than in China.”

Thomas A. Edison, one of America’s genius inventors and entrepreneurs, and creator of the incandescent light bulb, surely would be disappointed that we have been unable to manufacture high quantities of CFLs in the United States, to employ our own citizens in that process and to equip the world with this energy-efficient product. 

As Americans, we should always have choices.  And among those choices should be the ability to buy American-made products.