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Republicans Back Incandescent Bulbs Over Obama Opposition

U.S. House Republicans urged passage of a measure to block a phase-out of traditional light bulbs, as the Obama administration called the bill anti-consumer.

The legislation, which was debated on the House floor yesterday and is scheduled for a vote later today, would cost Americans $6 billion in energy savings in 2015, the White House said in a statement yesterday.

Representative Joe Barton, a Texas Republican, introduced the proposal to invalidate lighting efficiency standards that would effectively ban bulbs similar to the one invented by Thomas Edison more than 130 years ago. The requirements were included in a 2007 energy law signed by Republican President George W. Bush.

Keeping the light-bulb standards in place would be “overkill by the federal government,” Barton said in yesterday’s debate.

“If you’re Al Gore, and you want to spend $10 a light bulb, more power to you,” Barton said, referring to the former Democratic vice president who won the Nobel Peace Prize for his advocacy of policies to curb climate change. Consumers should be able to buy the cheaper incandescent bulbs if they want to, Barton and other Republicans said.

Representative Michael Burgess, a Texas Republican, said on the House floor that the government “wants to tell consumers what type of light bulb they use to read, cook, watch television, or light their garage.”

Health Concerns

Republicans also said mercury in one type of efficient device, the compact fluorescent light, or CFL, raises environmental and health concerns.

The new standards will cut air pollution and save consumers money in the long run, Democrats said. Representative Edward Markey, a Massachusetts Democrat, said during debate that the efficiency standards will save the amount of energy over 20 years that would otherwise be produced by 30 coal-fired plants.

The danger posed by the mercury in CFLs is “extraordinarily small,” David Goldston, director of government affairs for the Natural Resources Defense Council, said on a conference call yesterday with reporters.

Republicans are bringing up the bill under parliamentary rules that prohibit amendments and require two-thirds of the members voting to pass.

Senate Future

If the measure clears the higher vote hurdle, it faces an uncertain future in the Senate. Senator Jeff Bingaman, the chairman of the Senate Energy panel, “thinks that efforts to repeal the law are just plain dumb,” Bill Wicker, a spokesman for the New Mexico Democrat, said in an e-mail.

The Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee held a hearing on a similar bill introduced by Senator Michael Enzi, a Wyoming Republican. “The committee plans no further action,” Wicker said.

Bulbs have to be about 30 percent more efficient than today’s products, starting with the 100-watt bulb in 2012, followed by other versions in 2013 and 2014.

The administration said the new requirements won’t dictate how Americans illuminate their homes. “Any type of bulb can be sold as long as it meets the efficiency requirements,” the White House said, without issuing a veto threat.

“The bill would hinder an opportunity to save American consumers money,” according to the statement. The new standards also offer a chance for “enhancing energy efficiency and reducing harmful emissions associated with energy production.”

Manufacturers Retool

The National Electrical Manufacturers Association, which includes Fairfield, Connecticut-based General Electric Co., is lobbying against the push to prevent the light-bulb changes. Manufacturers have said they already retooled their factories to make products that comply with the new standards.

Environmental groups and efficiency advocates have also countered the Republican-led push by noting potential cost savings to consumers under the 2007 law.

Consumers would save about $92 billion from 2012 to 2030, including higher up-front costs of replacement bulbs, according to Andrew deLaski, executive director of the Appliance Standards Awareness Project in Boston.

In some cases, Barton said consumers would have to use the new bulbs for 10 years to recoup the higher price at stores.

Supporters of the phase-out include one of Edison’s great-grandchildren. Barry Sloane, a 61-year-old risk-management consultant, says he cut his power bills by about 10 percent since he replaced the familiar pear-shaped bulbs in his 3,000-square-foot Woodbury, New Jersey, home. He now uses CFLs.

‘Quest For Perfection’

His famous relative would’ve approved because Edison was on a “constant quest for perfection,” Sloane said in an interview yesterday.

Mike Brownfield, a spokesman for the Washington-based Heritage Foundation, said restrictions in the 2007 law “have become a hallmark of Nanny State overreach, provoking backlash across the country.”

The group says it promotes conservative public policies.

The bill is H.R. 2417.

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