With its traffic circles and tree-lined squares, America’s capital sometimes resembles a magical, otherworldly place. Maybe that’s why so many who govern here think that they can wave their legislative wands and unleash beauty — free of costs and complications.

Of course, reality rarely cooperates.

Consider Washington’s proposed ban on Thomas Edison’s incandescent light bulb.

In 2007, Congress imposed standards that would require light bulbs to be 30 percent more energy efficient by Jan. 1, effectively electrocuting Edison’s invention and dragooning Americans into using more energy-efficient alternatives.

On July 15, however, the House approved by voice vote an amendment from Rep. Michael Burgess, R-Texas, that defunded the Energy Department’s standards.

Courtesy of our federal masters, Americans endured a parade of unforeseen consequences as “the experts” tried to extinguish this landmark contribution to humanity.

Compact fluorescent lamps (CFLs), which Washington hoped will replace incandescent ones, brighten slowly, function poorly with dimmer knobs, and emit a color of light that many find unappealing. Even worse, according to EnergyStar.gov, each CFL contains 4 milligrams of toxic mercury. An average CFL includes enough mercury to pollute 528 gallons of water, which would fill 10.5 typical, 50-gallon residential water heaters.

As the EPA warns, “High exposures to inorganic mercury may result in damage to the gastrointestinal tract, the nervous system, and the kidneys.”

Breaking a CFL triggers a significant health hazard that requires a 10-step cleanup. Among other things, EPA recommends “opening a window or door to the outdoor environment.” No problem … unless you occupy an apartment, hotel room or office with sealed windows.

“Continue to air out the room where the bulb was broken and leave the H&AC system shut off, as practical, for several hours,” EPA counsels. This might upset residents of Phoenix, where temperatures have hit triple digits many days this summer. Likewise, opening one’s windows in Minneapolis might be unappealing in January, when highs average 22 degrees.

Old CFLs should be disposed of properly at recycling centers. Dream on. Most consumers will toss them in the trash with their tea bags. Mercury will accumulate in America’s landfills, possibly with disastrous results.

As Washington hammered incandescents, some gravitated toward light-emitting diodes. While LEDs pose none of CFLs’ health risks, they present their own problems.

Shifting from Edison bulbs to LEDs can save cities and states money. Changing streetlights to LEDs has shrunk Wisconsin’s power bill by $750,000 annually, the Associated Press’ Dinesh Ramde reported in December 2009.

“Their great advantage is also their drawback,” Ramde wrote. “They do not waste energy by producing heat.”

This means that the snow and ice that normally melt on contact with a hot, Edison-style streetlight or traffic signal instead coat LED fixtures in layers of wintry precipitation. Streetlights get whited out, “a problem blamed for dozens of accidents and at least one death,” Ramde explained.

In April 2009, Illinois officials say, motorist Lisa Richter began a left turn. Due to snow obstruction, an oncoming driver who could not see an LED-driven streetlight smashed into Richter, killing her at age 34.

While CFLs and LEDs supposedly save money in the long run, they cost much more up front. While lowes.com charges 93 cents for a 100-watt incandescent bulb, equivalent CFLs are $4.49. Meanwhile, a 95-watt LED bulb runs a staggering $69.98.

While employment tops America’s agenda, Washington’s war on the Edison bulb already has killed jobs. Last September, General Electric (a company founded by Edison) padlocked its last U.S. incandescent bulb factory. “A variety of energy regulations will soon make the familiar lighting products produced at the Winchester (Virginia) Plant obsolete,” GE announced last year.

Thus, 200 Americans lost their jobs, which paid some $30 per hour. In October 2008, GE shuttered six Ohio incandescent plants, leaving 425 workers in the dark.

Meanwhile, labor-intensive CFL production is thriving — in China.

Deroy Murdock is a columnist with Scripps Howard News Service and a media fellow with the Hoover Institution on War, Revolution and Peace at Stanford University. E-mail him at [email protected]

filed under:

Augusta and Waterville news

Get news and events from your towns in your inbox every Friday.


  • This field is for validation purposes and should be left unchanged.