Incandescent light bulb ban put on hold

@CNNMoney December 16, 2011: 2:28 PM ET
Ban on old fashioned light bulbs that had been set to take effect in January is blocked by Congressional spending deal.

Ban on old fashioned light bulbs that had been set to take effect in January is blocked by Congressional spending deal.

NEW YORK (CNNMoney) -- The traditional incandescent light bulb won a nine-month reprieve late Thursday from new federal rules that would have led to its demise.

The deal to avert a government shutdown starting Friday night includes a provision that prevents the Department of Energy from spending any money to implement or enforce the energy efficiency standards for light bulbs that is set to start going into effect for 100-watt bulbs in 2012.

The new standards and regulations remain on the book, even if they now won't be enforced.

The efficiency rules are intended to phase out of the old bulbs that are essentially unchanged since the time of Thomas Edison and a phase in of the more efficient bulbs such as halogen incandescent bulbs, compact fluorescent light bulbs (CFLs) or LED bulbs.

Those more efficient bills have a more expensive initial cost, about $1.50 to $2 a bulb compared to 25 or 50 cents for a less efficient light. But their advocates say lower energy usage and in some cases longer life from the new bulbs will more than make up for the higher purchase price over the life of the bulb.

A Department of Energy spokesman said the agency is studying the congressional action and had no comment on it at this time.

The National Electrical Manufacturers Association, the trade group whose members produce more than 95% of the light bulbs sold in the United States, supported the new energy efficient standards. It said its members have invested millions since Congress approved the standards in 2007, preparing to comply with the new rules, which remain in effect even if they will not be enforced.

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"The industry is concerned that any delay in federal enforcement...will undermine those investments and also create regulatory uncertainty," said Kyle Pitsor, vice president of government affairs for the trade group.

He said it could allow some "bad actors" to import less efficient bulbs from overseas "without any fear of enforcement, thereby creating an uncompetitive disadvantage for U.S. manufacturers that made those investments."

Among the major light bulb manufacturers are General Electric (GE, Fortune 500), Royal Philips Electronics (PHG) and Siemens (SI).

But while environmentalists and the manufacturers supported the new rules, many conservatives and some consumers had objected at the lack of choice they would entail.

The issue has been a lightening rod issue for the Tea Party.

At a hearing in May, Sen. Rand Paul, the Kentucky Republican elected with Tea Party support last year, lectured an Energy Department official that "you raise the cost of all the items with all the rules and all your notions that you know what's best for me....I find it insulting."

The reprieve ends on Sept. 30, 2012, the end of the government's fiscal year.

Republicans had tried to include numerous policy riders in the spending deal to force Democrats to accept their positions as a cost of keeping the government open. Most of those provisions other than the light bulb ban were stripped out of the legislation in the final negotiations Thursday night.

The spending deal is expected to be passed by both chambers of Congress Friday, just ahead of a midnight deadline. Even advocates of the new standards conceded Friday they have lost this round, but hope to be able to lift the ban on enforcement in the future.

David Goldston, director of government affairs for the National Resources Defense Council, a leading environmental group, said there is broad bipartisan support for the higher standards. If there had been an up or down vote on the provision, rather than having it attached to a must-pass piece of legislation, he said it would never have passed. To top of page

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