A fundraising letter making the rounds from a conservative political action committee draws a political line in the sand over light bulbs.
"The Democrats have already voted to BAN our conventional lights bulbs (that you and I use even today!) in favor of DANGEROUS fluorescent light bulbs," writes Alan Gottlieb, chairman of AmeriPAC, a political action committee that largely supports conservative Republican candidates.
The letter then invites people to read a letter from the Center for the Defense of Free Enterprise Action Fund.
"By outlawing incandescent lights in favor of compact fluorescent lighting, the environmentalists said the country would reduce energy consumption by $18 billion a year, or save consumers between $80 to $180 on their electric bills per year," the letter states. "The plus for the globalists? They said it would reduce global warming because one of the causes of global warming is...you guessed it...the old fashioned Tom Edison light bulb."
The letter seeks contributions and support for S.B. 395, the Better Use of Light Bulbs (BULB) Act, sponsored by Sen. Mike Enzi, R-Wyo., which seeks to repeal the light bulb efficiency standards included in the Energy Independence and Security Act of 2007.
"Help put an end to governmental interference in our lives! Help put an end to Mr. Obama interfering with free enterprise!" the letter urges, referring to President Barack Obama.
We are checking several claims from these light bulb letters, and in this one, we will tackle the central claim that, "Democrats have already voted to ban our conventional lights bulbs (that you and I use even today!) in favor of dangerous fluorescent light bulbs."
First off, it's not accurate to pin the law entirely to Democrats. It's true that more Democrats than Republicans voted for the Energy Independence and Security Act of 2007. But it got a measure of bipartisan support. It passed the House with a 264-163 vote (with 36 Republicans voting in favor). And in the Senate, the vote was 65-27 (with 20 votes in favor from Republicans). And it was signed by Republican President George W. Bush. We also explore the issue of whether fluorescent bulbs release "dangerous" amounts of mercury into the environment in a separate fact-check.
But the bigger issue here is the claim that the bill bans incandescent light bulbs.
Sec. 321 of the Energy Independence and Security Act of 2007 spells out the new standards, essentially requiring that light bulbs be 25 percent more efficient than they are now. Specifically, a 100 watt light bulb is to be replaced with a bulb using no more than 72 watts of electricity while still providing comparable light output. The 75-watt, 60-watt and 40-watt bulbs must be replaced by bulbs using no more than 53, 43 and 29 watts respectively. The law phased in the new requirements: first the replacements for the 100-watt bulbs by Jan. 1, 2012; followed by the lower watt bulbs in ensuing years.
The curlicue compact fluorescent bulbs and LED light bulbs easily meet the new efficiency standards. But we couldn't find any language in the law that specifically bans incandescent bulbs.
So we asked Ron Arnold of the Center for the Defense of Free Enterprise Action Fund to back up the claim that the law "outlaws" incandescent light bulbs.
Arnold said the bill is filled with vague and confusing language and that there is a de facto ban because the standards are so stringent that no manufacturers will be able to build incandescent bulbs that meet them.
"We believe 'ban' is an accurate term because there is no such thing as what they require," Arnold said.
"If it's available, where can I buy it?" he asked. "Why doesn't Home Depot carry them?"
Actually, they do, said Randy Moorhead, VP of government affairs at Philips Electronics, one of the three major manufacturers of light bulbs in the U.S.
Philips' new EcoVantage bulb, a halogen incandescent light bulb that runs on 72 watts but throws off as much light as a standard 100 watt bulb (and lasts just as long), shipped out to Home Depot in April, he said. Philips also offers a premium bulb that costs more, but lasts three times longer. Both bulbs are more expensive than the current 100 watt incandescent bulbs, but they more than pay for themselves in savings on electricity to power them (more on that in another fact-check).
The two other big players in the industry, Osram Sylvania and GE, have also developed new halogen incandescent bulbs that meet the new efficiency standards. But for those, you'll have to head to Lowe's.
Moorhead said industry representatives were closely involved in the legislative process to develop the new efficiency standards and would never have supported a ban of incandescent bulbs. The companies, as well as the legislators who drafted the bill, were keenly aware that the new standards could be met through the development of halogen incandescent light bulbs, he said.
"You don't have to buy fluorescent bulbs," said Steven Nadel, executive director of the American Council for an Energy-Efficient Economy.
Jen Stutsman, a spokeswoman for the Department of Energy, said the claims about a ban on incandescent light bulbs are simply wrong.
"It doesn't ban a specific type of light bulb," she said.
This one is a clear call for us. It's true that the current versions of incandescent light bulbs will be phased out of existence. Compact fluorescent and LED bulbs offer more efficient alternatives, but if incandescent light is your thing, the major light bulb makers have you covered. They have developed and shipped halogen incandescent bulbs that meet the new efficiency standards, so there is no basis in fact to claim they have been banned in favor of fluorescent bulbs. We rule this claim Pants on Fire.