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EDITORIAL: Lights out

The new year begins with a ban on old, reliable light bulbs

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It's lights out for the invention that has kept homes bright, warm and inviting for 130 years. Next week, manufacturers will no longer be allowed to produce 40- and 60-watt incandescent light bulbs.

This does not reflect a change of heart among consumers. They still value the simple, reliable and affordable light source now as much as ever. Administration bureaucrats, acting on orders from Congress, are using regulations to take the beloved, reliable light bulb out of the hands of consumers and foist upon them second-rate alternatives: expensive halogens, pricey LEDs and ugly curlicue compact fluorescents.

The apologists for the new policy bristle at the suggestion that their ban is a ban. "The lighting standards, which phase in from 2012-2014," according to flacks at the Energy Department, "do not ban incandescent or any specific bulb type; the bulbs need to use about 25 percent less energy." Behind this Orwellian doublespeak is an Energy Department enforcement division that issues millions of dollars in fines to companies that commit the crime of producing products that consumers want but that government nannies won't let them sell.

The apologists insist that the ban is for the consumers' own good, that they will save money "over the long run." John Maynard Keynes once wryly noted that "in the long run, we are all dead." The "environmentally friendly" compact fluorescents can in fact hasten death, as the bulbs are laced with neurotoxic mercury.

The phasing out of the 40- and 60-watt incandescents follows the disappearance from the marketplace of the brighter 100- and 75-watt incandescent bulbs at the beginning of 2013. Before year's end, there's likely to be a run on real light bulbs at Lowe's and Rite-Aid and Home Depot as consumers exercise their rapidly diminishing freedom to stockpile the 40- and 60-watt incandescents. Retailers can continue selling the old bulbs in stock until they run out. After that, enterprising scalpers can light up the pages of eBay and Craigslist.

The ban was enacted by a Democratic Congress, which isn't surprising. What was surprising is that 19 Republican senators voted for the so-called Energy Independence and Security Act of 2007, and a Republican president, George W. Bush, signed it into law. Americans are paying for their mistake in a number of ways, including fewer jobs. The banning of incandescents closed manufacturing plants in Virginia, Kentucky and Ohio. The new mercury-filled substitutes are being made in China, along with everything else.

Apart from the economic and safety problems introduced with the new bulbs, they don't work as well as in the design Thomas Edison perfected more than a century ago. Politically correct bulbs produce a harsh, displeasing light. Amy Ridenour of the National Center for Public Policy Research reports that when Europe banned incandescents, "art galleries and restaurants complained. The art didn't look right, and CFL and LED lighting isn't romantic."

For now at least, Christmas lights have been spared the wrath of the bulb banners. Whether you "keep [your] Christmas lights on, on [your] front porch all year long," as in the song by Gretchen Wilson, or turn them off every night, stocking up now is a good idea.

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