A Bright Verdict on Efficiency Standards

Several years ago, 2012 to be exact, when new efficiency standards for light bulbs first kicked in, there was a hue and cry from talk radio hosts. They lamented the death of the “Edison light bulb” and told listeners that the government was forcing everyone to switch to inferior, “mercury-laced,” compact fluorescent bulbs (CFLs). Some even partnered with retailers to frantically urge their audience to stockpile the old inefficient bulbs. It wasn’t long before some lawmakers jumped on the bandwagon and introduced legislation to block the standards, which were part of a 2007 bi-partisan energy bill signed into law by President George W. Bush. Congressman Michael Burgess (R-TX)  introduced various measures trying to block the standards or prohibit enforcement, and libertarian Senator Rand Paul (R-KY), citing an Ayn Rand novel, ranted about how consumer choice was being “crushed beneath the boot heel of the collective.” All of this angst was based entirely on talk-radio fiction. The truth was quite different. U.S. light bulb manufacturers, who were behind the push for nationwide efficiency standards, had already retooled their factories to produce improved incandescent bulbs that would meet the new standards, generating light with less waste heat. In fact, those new bulbs—which produced the exact same kind of light as the old versions—were already on store shelves more than six months before the standards went into effect. The lighting manufacturers also knew that CFLs were rapidly being squeezed out of the market. On price, the new improved incandescent bulbs were cheaper, and on quality, LED bulbs were longer lasting and far more efficient. Fast forward to today. Now that these light bulb...