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By W. Gardner Selby November 8, 2010

Rick Perry says Washington's reach extends to telling us which light bulb to use

No duh, Gov. Rick Perry has a thing against things from Washington. His new book, "Fed Up! Our Fight to Save America from Washington," brims with what-the-hey statements about whassup in our nation's capital including a declaration that lit us up.

Saying there's "no end to the reach of Washington," Perry writes that Washington is "even telling us what kind of light bulb we can use."

We asked Perry for backup on that claim and didn't hear back. Then we launched a search for "use-this-bulb" regulations.

What we found: In 2007, Congress voted to improve the efficiency of light bulbs. President George W. Bush signed into law the Energy Independence and Security Act, which set energy efficiency standards for kinds of incandescent lamps (light bulbs), incandescent reflector lamps (like track lighting in your kitchen), and fluorescent lamps, according to a December 2007 summary by the Congressional Research Service. With a few exceptions, the law also prohibits the U.S Coast Guard from purchasing incandescent light bulbs for use in Coast Guard office buildings.

Barack Obama, Bush's successor, promised while running for president to to sign a measure into law that "begins to phase out all incandescent light bulbs." He said the change would save Americans $6 billion a year on their electric bills. Last year, PolitiFact reported that no such proposal was made it into law, though in June 2009 Obama announced changes in lighting standards. Starting in August 2012, fluorescent tube lamps (most commonly found in offices and stores) and conventional incandescent reflector lamps must become more efficient. The government said such fluorescent and incandescent lamps represented approximately 38 percent and 7 percent, respectively, of total lighting energy use.

Our search for instances of the government directing which bulbs residents can use unearthed a June 2010 editorial in the Washington Times objecting to Federal Trade Commission-issued regulations of light-bulb labels. The editorial says the regs were ordered by Congress as part of its 2007 decision to force the more efficient, curlicue-shaped compact fluorescent light bulb "on a public that so far has refused to embrace it willingly. Beginning Jan. 1, 2012, the editorial says, bureaucratic rules will phase in, and" conventional 100-watt bulbs "will be first on the contraband list."

Make sense?

Jen Stutsman, spokeswoman for the U.S. Department of Energy, told us that conventional incandescent bulbs are not expected to meet the efficiency standards Congress set, though the government expects manufacturers to improve incandescent technologies to meet the higher standards or consumers will move to compact fluorescent light bulbs, LED technologies or halogens. She said new standards for 100-watt bulbs take effect in January 2012. New standards for 75-watt bulbs start in 2013 and standards for 60- and 40-watt bulbs start in 2014.

Stutsman said the expected shifts aren't equivalent to the government telling Americans which light bulbs to use. "Under no circumstances does it say that a consumer must purchase a specific type of light bulb," Stutsman said.

Finally, we sought advice from the Dallas-based American Lighting Association, a trade group whose director of engineering and technology, Terry McGowan, said in an e-mail that it's a stretch to say federal laws are telling us what light bulb to buy. "Federal law is requiring that household light bulbs be made more efficient in steps over time as a nationwide energy-saving measure. It's like saying that new cars will have to deliver more miles/gallon. Maybe some people would say that's mandating what kind of car to buy; but that's an interpretation — especially if many cars on the market can meet the miles/gallon requirement," McGowan said.

"There will still be household light bulbs available," McGowan's e-mail says, noting later that special-purpose bulbs used in appliances or for decorative purposes are exempted. "One thing is for sure; what we use for lighting our homes will take some thought — and maybe we'll be changing what we decide to do."

So, is Washington telling us what kind of bulb to use?

Not yet, though the 2007 law steps up efficiency requirements and that's expected to result in consumers purchasing and using different bulbs. These factors give Perry's statement an element of truth. We rate it Barely True.

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Editor's note: This statement was rated Barely True when it was published. On July 27, 2011, we changed the name for the rating to Mostly False.

Our Sources

Congressional Research Service, CRS Report for Congress, "Energy Independence and Security Act of 2007: A Summary of Major Provisions," Dec. 21, 2007 (accessed Nov. 4, 2010)

E-mail, response to PolitiFact Texas, Terry McGowan, director of engineering and technology, American Lighting Association, Dallas, Nov. 5, 2010

Interview, Jen Stutsman, deputy press secretary, U.S. Department of Energy, Washington, Nov. 4, 2010

Rick Perry, governor of Texas, in "Fed Up! Our Fight to Save America from Washington," Little, Brown and Company, New York, 2010, p. 37.

PolitiFact, "Obama makes light bulbs more energy efficient," July 21, 2009 (accessed Nov. 4, 2010)

U.S. Department of Energy, announcement on new efficiency standards , accessed Nov. 4, 2010

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Rick Perry says Washington's reach extends to telling us which light bulb to use

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