In the midst of an economic crisis, troubles in Afghanistan and various terrorist threats around the globe, the last thing on the minds of Americans is the light bulb. That didn’t stop the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) earlier this month from releasing 91 pages of regulations that will force manufacturers to revise their packaging and make costly compact fluorescent bulbs appear more appealing to consumers.
Congress ordered these changes in 2007 as part of its decision to force the dim, overpriced, mercury-filled product on a public that so far has refused to embrace it willingly. Beginning Jan. 1, 2012, bureaucratic rules will phase in, and 100-watt versions of Thomas Edison’s venerable invention will be first on the contraband list. Sylvania, the largest light-bulb company in North America, found in a telephone survey last year that three-quarters of Americans have no idea that Congress is coming for their light bulbs. If you like a safe, warm glow with your lighting, now would be a good time to start stocking up on incandescents.
Congress wants to force the pale, cold fluorescent curlicue fixtures on everyone because it makes members feel that they are doing their part to “save the planet.” Fluorescent bulbs certainly are more efficient, and they do use less power. They make sense in many applications, particularly in workplace environments. The FTC’s new labels dethrone the watt as the primary measure of a bulb’s effectiveness and replace it with the lumen as a measure of light output. For the most part, industry supports the change. It’s happy to sell you any type of bulb.
Manufacturers do grumble about the government rules requiring so much information, which often must be repeated in both French and Spanish. Packages for small light bulbs do not have room for it all. According to one firm, the cost of redesigning hundreds of different boxes to meet the new standards is “high-end work” that will cost several million dollars. De-emphasis of the watt on the new containers also will make it more likely that consumers could select the wrong bulb for a light fixture, increasing the risk of fire.
Safety, of course, is far from the minds of the feel-good regulators in Congress, who are pushing bulbs typically filled with up to 15 milligrams of mercury, a toxic substance. According to the Environmental Protection Agency, breaking one of these new bulbs can be a costly mistake. “If clothing or bedding materials come in direct contact with broken glass, then it’s time to throw them away. They’re gone for good,” the agency explained.
Manufacturers are hard at work inventing energy-saving alternatives that consumers will embrace once it makes sense to do so. For example, at least two have developed energy-saving halogen bulbs that just squeak in under the 2012 regulations. There is no need for the self-appointed planetary saviors in Congress to meddle in the process. Congress already has taken over the design of shower heads, flush toilets and washing machines. It’s time to put an end to congressional nannying and repeal government intrusion into household plumbing and appliances.