American Elephants

Light Bulbs and the Nanny State by The Elephant's Child

Nick Gillespie of Reason shares my exasperation with the Light Bulb Police.  I think most people are really unaware of the approaching ban, and when they suddenly find out that they cannot buy normal light bulbs, that they are stuck with the revolting CFL bulbs, and that they are going to be forced to replace most of the fixtures in their homes, you are going to have a very angry populace.

Congress is undoubtedly too busy with attempting to get the budget under control to devote much effort to repealing the incandescent bulb ban.  Do understand that there is no reason whatsoever for the ban.  We are not short of electricity, we have natural gas supplies in abundance for at least 200 years.  And with natural gas so plentiful, the price of gas should drop.  We have plentiful supplies of coal as well.

So why are the Nannies banning incandescent bulbs?  Because GE, Phillips and Sylvania can buy CFL bulbs very cheaply from China, which sell here at a much higher price, and make lots more money.  These companies apparently wrote the bill that bans incandescents.  That kind of collusion used to be illegal, but who worries about things like that these days?  The administration, charged by the Constitution with enforcing the law, feels no obligation to obey the law itself.

28 Comments so far
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I am not defending the regulation, but the choice is wider than just CFLs (which I agree are revolting in many ways: they put out unatractive light and contain mercury). The worldwide trend away from standard incandescent light bulbs is spurring rapid innovation in the industry. Popular in Europe these days, for example, are halogen light bulbs that last twice as long as a standard lightbulb, shed a very attractive spectrum of light, and are 30% more efficient.

To quote from this NYT article

“There’s a massive misperception that incandescents are going away quickly,” said Chris Calwell, a researcher with Ecos Consulting who studies the bulb market. “There have been more incandescent innovations in the last three years than in the last two decades.”

Instead of flying off in indignation, how about doing some research first?


Comment by Subsidy Eye

LEDs are the future of lighting.


Comment by Ben Hoffman

And, by the way, the practice of corporations pushing for regulations that make life difficult for existing technologies and favor new ones is pretty standard, unfortunately. And not only in the United States. When India started manufacturing azo dyes (invented in the 19th century), the European chemical industry, which was switching to patented, more expensive alternative dyes, sponsored research that suggested that azo dyes (actually, only certain ones) were carcinogenic. Now fabric containing them are banned from sale in the EU. This is not a lef-right issue, but the consequence of the cozy relationship between big corporations and the people who write the laws.

And you asked the other day why people are suspicious of big corporations. I think you answered your question yourself. It is about their access to and influence on policy makers that most people resent, not the fact that they make profits.


Comment by Subsidy Eye

Subsidy, because she won’t say it, I will. My fellow Elephant, The Elephant’s Child does more research in one day than you’ve probably done in your whole life. She knows of what she writes. Watch your snotty tongue. If you disagree with her, do so, but knock off the snotty and patently false “because you disagree with me, I am smarter/more informed than you” attitude. I guarantee you are not.


Comment by American Elephant

I hate CFL bulbs. My understanding is that all incandescent bulbs are going away –the most popular immediately and the rest gradually. It is not the federal government’s business to decide what kind of light bulbs we may have. They are even putting CFLs in a glass bulb. The new bulbs are hugely expensive. Claims have been that CFL bulbs would last a long time, but many of the Chinese bulbs don’t last at all. Disposal is a problem. And the reason why we have to change is? To “save energy so that we won’t be dependent on foreign oil” — at least that’s the claim of our scientist in chief. There is no reason. We do not have a shortage of electricity, nor do we have a shortage of the energy to produce it, and all the efforts to force the public to accept his dreams of a “clean green economy” are ridiculous. Neither wind nor solar can produce significant amounts of power. It is all a waste.


Comment by The Elephant's Child

I haven’t the slightest objection to corporations pushing for regulations that will help American industry. I object to their writing a bill, and I object to the king of rent-seekers– Jeffrey Immelt. I object to rent-seeking. I object to Congress doing their bidding. Just as there are good outstanding members of Congress and some real turkeys, there are excellent corporations and poor ones. When I asked why people are suspicious of corporations, it was really a rhetorical question — it’s the Marxist hatred of Capitalism, and ignorant people fall for it. Of course it’s the fact that they make profits. The free market doesn’t support “social justice” — the misguided aim of the left.


Comment by The Elephant's Child

“Elephant’s Child does more research in one day than you’ve probably done in your whole life.”

@American, you have no idea what I know or don’t know, or how much research I have done on a particular subject, do you? But that doesn’t seem to prevent you from making presumptuous statements. It just so happens that I have done a lot of research on energy-efficiency goods.

I have no idea how much research Elephant’s Child does either, but if she writes a column that ignores a point that suggests she has not investigated the topic sufficiently, I am going to point that out.

As the New York Times article points out, traditional bulbs are not about to disappear, but “incandescent bulbs” are not: new versions will meet the standards. So will bulbs based on light-emitting diodes (LEDs). So it is not a case that the only alternatives will be CFLs.

That is not to say that the regulation itself is a good idea, nor that it was well designed.

Regarding corporations writing legislation, I am surprised at the surprise expressed. It happens more often than most people realize if, by “writing” you mean providing draft text that a lawmaker then uses. Naturally, legislators are not always keen to acknowledge the helpful hand they have received.

I hate rent-seeking myself, and Congress doing the bidding of special-interest groups (not just big corporations), which is why my nom de plume is “Subsidy Eye”.

Regarding the suspicion that many people feel for big corporations, I beg to differ that it is only motivated by “Marxist hatred of Capitalism”. I have known some “Mercedes Marxists” in my time, and I find them despicable. But I also know many people who are suspicious of Big Corporations because of the privileged access they have to the legislative process.

It is disappointing that you so often see the world in absolute terms. It is much more nuanced than that.


Comment by Subsidy Eye

Agree with the posting

Light bulb ban proponents keep saying – a bit like Subsidy Eye first in the comment list here –
“Hey, this is not a ban, energy efficient incandescents like Halogens
will be allowed!”

Sure it’s a ban:
Any light not meeting the standard is banned,
and Halogens, like CFLs or LEDs, have differences in construction,
light output type etc as well as in costing more, compared to
simple ordinary bulbs.

The official reason that CFLs are pushed as the main replacement is to
save energy…(which for many reason is less than it’s supposed, see below website)
the less publicised reason is their profitability:

You are more right than you know re CFls and manufacturers!

How manufacturers and vested interests have pushed for this ban,
and lobbied for CFL favors – with happy political cooperation: with extensive documentation and copies of official


Comment by lighthouse

Subsidy Eye,

All I know of what you know is what you write. None of which has refuted the points made.

But what I was addressing, however, is your snotty, disrespectful tone.

1. Were you as well informed as you claim, it would be completely unnecessary.

2. This is my blog and you will keep a civil tongue in your head, be respectful, or you won’t comment here. Period.


Comment by American Elephant


You write, “But what I was addressing, however, is your snotty, disrespectful tone.”

For an elephant, you have a pretty thin skin. Please cite what I have written that is “snotty”. It seems to me that when I am right, you resent it, and then start being disrespectful to me.

You write also, “Were you as well informed as you claim, it would be completely unnecessary.” I would apply the same logic to the original column (and many columns here). If the author is well informed, then exaggeration, hyperbole and outrage would not be necessary.


You are putting words into my mouth. I did not say “Hey, this is not a ban.” Old-technology incandescents will cease to be sold. But new ones that meet the standards will be available, as they already are in Europe. Nor did I express support for the legislation. What I did point out was that the choice of alternatives was not just CFLs. Nobody has refuted that, not even American Elephant.

And, yes, the up-front cost of those lamps is greater than for traditional bulbs, though prices continue to fall and for many commercial applications the longer life of the bulbs means that the labor costs of changing them is less. Of course, any building plant manager should understand that and therefore it should not be necessary to force their hand.

Regarding the role of corporations in pushing for the legislation, I have expressed sympathy with your outrage. I have only pointed out that such behind-the-scenes “help” from corporations when regulations are being written is much more common than many people realize.

Just look back at the Montreal Protocol on Substances That Deplete the Ozone Layer (a protocol to the Vienna Convention for the Protection of the Ozone Layer). Here’s an excerpt of an article describing Du Pont’s role in the international ban on such chemicals:

In 1988, after dramatic new scientific evidence was revealed that ozone depletion was worse than previously believed–and after negative media coverage on Du Pont’s stonewalling–the company did an about face, announcing a phase-out of CFCs. The Du Pont phase-out, however, was specifically designated for “fully halogenated CFCs,” a scientific term that came to determine which chemicals were given specific phaseout deadlines under the 1987 international agreement regulating CFCs known as the Montreal Protocol. Some observers speculate that industry–with government complicity–deliberately redefined the formerly singular universe of “chlorofluorocarbons/fluorocarbons” into three new chemical categories. These “new” categories became the basis for differentiating which chemicals would be phased out and which would become the “officially sanctioned” substitutes [see “Du Pont’s Duplicity: Profiting at the Planet’s Expense,” Multinational Monitor, March 1990]. The new categories, HCFCs and HFCs, also damage the ozone layer, but not as severely as CFCs.

By 1988, it was generally believed that CFC replacements would sell at prices three to five times that of existing CFCs.

For Du Pont, the Montreal Protocol has become a godsend. First, by imposing production limits that provided much-needed price increases, the Protocol gave a boost to the company’s CFC business, which had begun declining in the 1970s. Second, it sanctioned a specific group of substitute chemicals that Du Pont was already prepared to deploy, giving them international environmental acceptability and a guaranteed market.


Comment by Subsidy Eye

Subsidy, I’ve already made myself perfectly clear. Your questions are all answered above. I’m sorry if I gave you the impression that my statement was up for debate or negotiation, I assure you it’s not. Knock off the snotty condescension, keep a civil, respectful tongue in your head, or you will not comment here. If you can’t do that, goodbye. End of discussion.

As for having thin skin, that doesn’t even make sense considering I am addressing comments that were made to someone else. And I can also assure you it has nothing to do with resenting your being right, as I have yet to experience that. The government IS banning “regular light bulbs” as she put it, taking choice away, all your irrelevant talk about halogens and new technology notwithstanding.


Comment by American Elephant

Please explain, American. Elephant Child wrote, “they cannot buy normal light bulbs, … they are stuck with the revolting CFL bulbs.” I showed that was not true: there are other types of light bulbs that people will be able to buy, including newer, more efficient versions of incandescent bulbs that are the same size and fit into the same old sockets.

Yet you write, “As far as I have seen, Subsidy, you have yet to be right about anything.” That’s a pretty blanket statement and suggests that you have a hard time admitting that people who do not always share your world view may on occasion be right. As the saying goes, everybody has a right to their own opinion, but not their own facts.


Comment by Subsidy Eye

Only a right-winger could be so upset about a light bulb. Oooohhh, they’re taking away our freedoms. It’s tyranny. I want my incandescent light bulbs. Waaaaaaaaaaaaaaa!!!!


Comment by Ben Hoffman

Re Allowable incandescent light bulbs (eg Halogens)

Relating to what subsidy eye says,
it’s similar to what is being said – and will more and more be said – In USA and Canada just like it was in Europe:

Replacement (mains voltage) type Halogens are indeed a more energy efficient type of incandescent light, but they are nothing new: They have been available for some time, and consumers hardly buy them.
Because, not only do they still have many differences with ordinary simple incandescents, in construction, the light given out, and other areas, but they also cost much more – the small energy/lifespan savings don’t justify the much higher price, typically 5-8 times the price of a regular bulb.

But governments actually don’t like Halogens either
– any purchase increases makes a ban (even) more irrelevant in the stated aim to save energy – that is why Halogens are used as a decoy to hide the real purpose of the ban, which is to push “energy saving” CFL sales as explained in the above link.

Notice, in this regard, the purchasing situation in post-ban EU and Australia:
Replacement Halogens are only available in specialist shops, and since LEDS are unsuitable as replacements for regular bulbs (too high a price, especially for omni-directional bright replacements), what is seen in supermarkets and general stores is not just the sole availability of CFLs, but also the in-store enticement to buy them, marketed as as saving consumers a lot of money.

The “you can use halogens” is therefore a nice deviation tactic…


Comment by lighthouse

@ Lighthouse

“Notice, in this regard, the purchasing situation in post-ban EU and Australia: Replacement Halogens are only available in specialist shops, …”

I don’t know your source of information, but it simply is not true, at least regarding the EU: they are sold even in the smallest grocery stores these days. This is what they look like. Yes, the light is different from the old-fashioned incandescent, but many people prefer it. It is certainly way, way preferred to the light from CFLs.


Comment by Subsidy Eye


I guess that makes the poor and elderly ALL right-wingers, because the light bulb ban, like all liberal policies, is going to be hardest on them.

But only a left-winger could want to dictate so much of peoples lives from what light bulbs they can use to how much fat and salt they can eat, to what kinds of programming they must support, what kind of healthcare they buy, what it must cover, how much people must pay even if someone wants to work for less, and how much people can make and on and on and on. Dictate, you see, is the root of Dictator. One who dictates, as you and the left constantly do.

Which is why socialism, National Socialism, Fascism, Communism and all tyranny are things of the big government left, and there is no such thing as small government tyranny.

And by the way, when I took Subsidy to task for his snotty remarks I should have mentioned that his remarks are the pinnacle of enlightenment and civility next to yours. All you do is name call, and really I should have banned you already. But I’ll give you the same warning first.

But perhaps I should reconsider. After all, your name calling only exposes how unsupportable your arguments are.

Ugh. Now I have to fashion some sort of comment policy. I dont want our comments to devolve into the swearing, name calling and condescension that pass for intellectual argument on lefty blogs, but I also dont want to ban everyone who disagrees as also typifies lefty blogs. And I also dont want to prevent you from exposing the level of your intellect.

I will figure this out w my fellow bloggers and get back. For now, try to debate like a grown up.


Comment by American Elephant

Subsidy eye and other ban apologists…

Re Halogens (efficient incandescents),
firstly I know about the sales situation, from living in Europe
and having friends and relations in different countries – CFLs rule

secondly, I own several Halogens, sure, they are useful in themselves, have a similar if slightly more complex appearance but also have a whiter light apart from costing much more
No reason not to be allowed use regular bulbs

All lights are useful:
The “Switch all your lights and save lots of money” campaigns are like saying “Eat only bananas and save lots of money!”
Different rooms, different situations – different light types useful.

The whole relevancy here is of course of WHY people SHOULD be told what they can buy

1 The society savings aren’t there as laid out clearly on
USA overall energy savings less than 1% using DOE figures (remember: their big lighting percentage includes industrial, street etc non-incandescent lighting)

2. Even if the savings were there:
People pay for the electricity they use, of which there is no shortage justifying restrictions – and even less foreseeable future shortage, given the development of a lot of renewable low emission sources etc

3. Even if the savings were there:
There are better ways to save energy, in power plant delivery, grids, etc
– competition, rather then regulation, between suppliers as between light bulb manufacturers guarantees energy efficiency in their energy use
— and indeed forces manufacturers to supply people with what they want, which includes
bulbs that can save them money.

“Expensive to buy but cheap in the long run”?
Energizer bunny etc commercials show how such products can imaginatively be sold.
Manufacturers should get off their backsides and
market their products “If they are so great”
as subsidy eye and ban proponents say.

4. Even if the savings were there:
Other better ways to save energy are to reduce actual waste, whether in supply or use,
eg lights left on commercially etc,
and to target relevant greater usage
eg freezer types, and other heavy energy using products in relevant households

5. Even if the savings were there:
Taxation would be more relevant even for ban proponents (tax is wrong – just better than regulation:)
2 billion US and EU sales of relevant bulbs show massive governement income potential, and can lower tax/subsidize greener bulbs, pay for home insulation measures etc, overall lowering society energy use more than the remaining taxed bulbs supposedly raises it, while retaining consumer choice
As said tax is wrong, but better than banning useful products.

Do bans on bulbs matter?
Some ridicule it,
but people spend half their lives under artificial lights, and they should have a free choice.

More importantly,
it matters because of the underlying ideology, which is how an efficient yet creative and free society is developed (Edison would have been stopped from this invention), which as said is better furthered, in my view, with market competition rather than regulation, when it comes to the use of safe products: We are not talking about banning lead paint here…


Comment by Lighthouse


You keep trying to put words in my mouth, calling me a “ban apologist”. Evidence, please. My point was to correct the statement made by Elephant’s Child, whose entire column was premised on the claim that Americans will “suddenly find out that they cannot buy normal light bulbs, that they are stuck with the revolting CFL bulbs, and that they are going to be forced to replace most of the fixtures in their homes”. What you have written seems to confirm my point, that other kinds of bulbs will be available, ones that can fit into existing fixtures. I have not disputed your point that these are more costly than old-fashioned incandescent light bulbs.

But I still dispute your claim that screw-in halogen-based incandescent light bulbs are not widely available in the EU. (Perhaps your visit to Europe was awhile ago?) I was in several cities in France over the Christmas holidays and noticed them for sale everywhere, even in corner stores. I have friends in the UK and the Netherlands. Same thing. Admittedly, the penetration of the market with these bulbs has been rather rapid, which is why I suspect that your information is out of date.

By the way — again not to “apologize” for the ban — but to provide some perspective. I live in an apartment and have some 20 bulbs. If I have to replace half of them in any given year (at $2.50-$3.00 more per bulb — ignoring the fact that they last longer) with halogen-based bulbs that are 30% more energy efficient, that will cost me perhaps $25-30 more than replacing them with old-fashioned incandescents. At the same time — assuming the average bulb is 75 Watts, is illuminated for 3 hours per day, and I pay the average U.S. after-tax price for electricity of $0.1155 per kWhr — I will save about $57 per year on my electricity bill.

So, electricity savings more than offset the purchase cost, I don’t need to replace my light fixtures, and (personally) I find that the light these bulbs give off is attractive. Hmmm, doesn’t sound like a big burden on me.

That said, I am all for freedom of choice, and am not keen on bans or mandates in general.

Just, please, if you want to get outraged over what you regard as a constraint on your personal freedom, fine.

But let’s keep that discussion distinct from the facts about what the policy means in practical and economic terms.


Comment by Subsidy Eye

Sub eye
I am glad You are happy with your choices
– but that does not mean I should be happy with mine –
or that I should be told what to use, for the reasons explained at length above.

It’s irrelevant “how similar or how cheap to use”
the alternatives that you favor are…


Comment by Lighthouse


Again, just to reiterate: I never said you should be happy with your choices. I am trying to establish the facts, that is all.


Comment by Subsidy Eye

Facts Subsidy Eye ?

Alright, you asked for it…
Find a nice comfy chair, put this in your pipe and smoke it
( don’t take everything too seriously 😉 )

1. Europe ban specification.

Scroll to bottom for details
(Committee specification, subsequently ratified)

2. All – repeat all – frosted light bulbs AND halogens were banned with immediate effect.
(official reason: let people who like them buy CFLs, which of course can’t be made as clear types)

Note that they are the most popular choice,
and overwhelmingly so in Northern/Central Europe, on Philips/Osram pre-ban sales figures
due to less glare from naked bulbs.

Ask all your nice friends to buy frosted bulbs
that at least most of Their friends are likely to prefer..
(shops are allowed to sell out existing stock, but that’s it).

3. RE “Great Halogen replacements”
Read the specifications.
ALL replacement halogens banned before end 2015

Only a class B low volatage type MIGHT on review be continued
Low voltage (eg side-lamp) halogens are not GLS replacement types.

Note, for Americans etc – the talk is the same
in USA and elsewhere, that Halogens are only allowed in an interim period

Having recently been in several countries they are indeed hard to get,
and while indeed you can save on some electricity costs in the home,
the point I make was on overall society energy savings,
which after all is what is supposed to justify a society action on them.


Comment by Lighthouse

Re above, if not so clear:
European prefer frosted bulbs because of less glare from them, compared to transparent bulbs…
(and one can add that frosted bulbs don’t reflect their patterns onto book pages etc which transparent bulbs do, as they act as point-sources of light)


Comment by Lighthouse


It will be interesting to see whether you get lectured by American Elephant for being “snotty” and “arrogant”.

Is this a Republican thing, changing the subject when confronted with a correction that the person does not want to admit?

I do not dispute, nor have I disputed, that many types of bulbs are now being phased out in the EU.

When I spoke of “halogen”, I provided a photo. The ones I refer to that are widely available, and are 30% more efficient are, according to your link, more properly called “Halogen lamps with xenon gas filling (C-class)”. The ones being phased out fall into classes D, E, F, G (page 10 of your link).

So, I repeat: CFLs are not the only choice.

By the way, could you please be more specific as to when you visited countries in which alternatives to CFLs were hard to find, and when.


Comment by Subsidy Eye

I meant, “By the way, could you please be more specific as to when you visited countries in which alternatives to CFLs were hard to find, and which ones they were?”


Comment by Subsidy Eye

Confess: You don’t know anything about lighting, electricity, or conservation, do you.

Why don’t you get a Girl Scout to come lecture you on resource conservation.

I mean, can you get a clue?


Comment by Ed Darrell

[…] American Elephant (who, oddly enough, use African elephants as their logo) […]


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I would say this will be my last comment on this subject….

I am glad Subsidy Eye (and no doubt others too)believe the choices are there:
I believe I have made very clear, with references, why they are not as good as supposed, and indeed how the public, in the USA and certainly in Europe, are being misled about the choices
– quite apart from the freedom to choose aspects of the regulations.

As for savings,
certainly consumers can make certain savings, as their choice is sacrificed:
However, on a national basis, the energy savings from light bulb regulations are small, as the references show.
Besides utility companies would likely raise their rates for consumers if their electricity sales did indeed dip significantly
(especially outside their less profitable peak hour generation)

As for European countries,
The situation of Halogens not being available in many general stores and supermarkets relates to the UK, Ireland Sweden and other Scandinavian countries and Germany, that I know of directly,
and several other countries from my communications with friends there.
More than that, Tesco, IKEA, Centra, German Kaufhauses and similar main stores also actively promote the CFL sales with in-shop marketing “how much consumers save” etc

As for Halogens being banned in Europe
that includes all frosted ones straight away,
and the C Class Halogens too:
The bottom graph may confuse, in talking about allowed “special cap” Halogens, which, as the text makes clear, are not replacement regular bulb look-alike types.

“Halogen clear lamps (xenon-filled) which reach class C will remain on the
market until 2016. Unless new technologies would emerge, clear lamps will be low voltage halogen lamps with integrated or non-integrated transformer from 2016, reaching class B.

(Note: frosted lights having already been banned).

Only certain low voltage transformer requiring types (not for GLS regular bulb replacement) may -on review- be continue to be allowed.
The reference is provided: Those who want to check the facts, can check them.

Aside from Halogens and CFLs,
LEDs and OLED (sheet lighting) type lighting may of course see sales increases in the future – certainly they have their advantages,
but – for all the reasons provided –
it does not necessitate stopping people using regular cheap bulbs if they want.

Old “obsolescent” technology is also safe and known technology, compared to the new and unknown.

Yes, we should welcome the New:
It does not justify banning the Old.


Comment by Lighthouse

When I was small, we had our own hydroelectric power plant. Very small. I’ve toured several hydroelectric dams, and I have been studying energy issues for the past ten years. Which certainly does not make me an expert, but I do know a thing or two. We do not have a shortage of electric power. Our electric power is produced by natural gas (39.1%); coal (30.7%); nuclear (9.(%) and hydro (9.8%). Hydro is not going to run out. We have a known 250 year reserve of coal, and a 110 year reserve of natural gas. These are discovered known reserves. There’s also a lot that we know is there, but we don’t know how much. Wind and solar will never produce any significant amount of power, and wind requires 24/7 backup from a conventionally fired power plant–so it doesn’t really count at all. Which resource are you worried about conserving?


Comment by The Elephant's Child

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