Friday, December 19th, 2014

Lawmakers, Perry stand up for incandescents

Richard Anderson browses the light bulb selection at a Lowe's in Greenville, S.C.
Richard Anderson browses the light bulb selection at a Lowe's in Greenville, S.C.

With his June 17 signature of House Bill 2510, Gov. Rick Perry joined with the Texas Legislature in pushing back against federal regulation of light bulbs.

The law, authored by state Rep. George Lavender, R-Texarkana, seeks to protect Texans’ access to traditional incandescent light bulbs in the face of the Energy Independence and Security Act, a 2007 federal law setting national efficiency standards that the bulbs aren’t expected to meet.

As of January 2012, the new state law exempts incandescent light bulbs made and sold in Texas from federal laws and regulation.

Perry brought up the efficiency standards last year in his book, "Fed Up! Our Fight to Save America from Washington," writing that the feds are "even telling us what kind of light bulb we can use." We rated that statement Barely True; the 2007 law is expected to result in consumers purchasing and using different light bulbs, but the federal government is not dictating choices.

Two months later, U.S. Rep. Michelle Bachmann, a Minnesota Republican who later declared for president, earned a Barely True from our friends at PolitiFact National after making the same statement in her response to President Barack Obama’s State of the Union address.

PolitiFact has checked other light bulb-related claims.

U.S. Rep. Joe Barton of Texas, a critic of the federal regulations, received a Barely True for saying in a Nov. 11 speech that a four-pack of incandescent light bulbs costs $1.99 while one compact fluorescent lamp (the more energy-efficient, curlicue-shaped bulbs) costs $9.99.

CFL prices vary. In retail stores and online, we found a 15-watt dimming bulb for $11.77 and a three-pack of soft-white 13-watt bulbs for $4.92. The prices of incandescents vary too. We found a two-pack of three-way incandescents for $4.26 and a four-pack of 100-watt soft-white bulbs for 84 cents. While Barton’s price comparisons held up on their face, his claim ignored important factors — including that CFLs generally last longer than incandescents.

Per fluorescent bulbs, conservative activist Phyllis Schlafly grabbed our attention in February with her statement that broken CFLs "allegedly cause migraines and epilepsy attacks." Although flickering lights of various origins have been linked to migraines and epileptic seizures, our research found no scientific evidence that CFLs, broken or otherwise, cause either disorder. We rated Schlafly’s statement False.

More recently, PolitiFact National detected smoke coming from two light-bulb statements made in a fundraising letter from conservative political action committee AmeriPAC and the Center for the Defense of Free Enterprise Action Fund. The claims — that "Democrats have already voted to ban our conventional lights bulbs ... in favor of dangerous fluorescent light bulbs" and that "you will be mandated by federal law to get rid of your existing light bulbs" — rated Pants on Fire!

PolitiFact also investigated a cost claim in the letter: that the federal regulations will force consumers to buy bulbs that are six times pricier than incandescents. Like our check of Barton’s statement, the fundraising letter’s claim earned a Barely True for ignoring the long-term savings that CFLs and other more efficient bulbs provide.

Also checked: A claim that CFLs are "toxic" and "not environmentally friendly." CFLs contain a small amount of mercury, a toxic substance. But government and environmental officials say the risk to consumers is small, particularly if bulbs are properly handled. The claim was rated Half True.

Most recently, a light-bulb-related fact-check from PolitiFact Rhode Island popped June 16, yielding a Pants on Fire for an activist’s claim that government is making it illegal to use the traditional incandescent bulbs.

Back to the Lone Star State. The Texas Tribune, describing House Bill 2510 in a June 7 news article, questioned whether it will have a "practical effect." The story said it’s unclear how many incandescent bulbs are made in Texas.