I knew Tom Edison. Mitt, You’re no Tom Edison.
March 21, 2012
Mitt Romney pandered to yet another bogus right wing shibboleth, the so-called “light bulb ban”
“And the government would have banned Thomas Edison’s light bulb. Oh yeah, Obama’s regulators actually did just that.”
— Mitt Romney, March 19, 2012
During an economic speech on Monday, the former Massachusetts governor and presidential hopeful charged that the Obama administration “banned” Thomas Edison’s light bulb.
Really? Let’s take a look at this contentious issue.
Thomas Edison did not invent the incandescent light bulb, but he did make it commercially viable, filing his first patent for improvements in 1878. And, then 129 years later, President George W. Bush signed into law the Energy Independence and Security Act of 2007.
The bill passed both Houses of Congress with big bipartisan votes — 264 to 163 in the House of Representatives and 65 to 27 in the Senate. When Bush signed it, he lauded it for including “revisions to improve energy efficiency in lighting and appliances.”
One of those revisions included minimum efficiency standards, requiring common light bulbs use at least 25 percent less electricity. The regulations were due to take effect for 100 watt bulbs at the beginning of 2012, but a nine-month delay in enforcement was added in an agreement to avoid a government shutdown late last year.
Incandescent bulbs are remarkably inefficient, converting less than 10 percent of the energy they use into light and more than 90 percent into heat. As the Congressional Research Service put it, “some critics refer to traditional incandescent bulbs as ‘resistance heaters that also give off light.’” So the new law was designed to save billions of dollars in electricity costs and reduce carbon emissions.
The law does not ban or specifically prohibit incandescent light bulbs, but they must meet the new efficiency standards. As a practical matter, that means many of the cheap bulbs now being sold will no longer be manufactured as they are replaced by new, more efficient bulbs.
The up-front cost of the new bulbs is likely to be higher, but over time the bulbs are supposed to pay for themselves because they lose less energy and do not need to be replaced as often.
Moreover, the industry is already responding, not just to the U.S. law but similar efficiency standards that have been mandated in countries around the world. American manufacturers have invested millions of dollars to meet the law’s requirements and are not about to change course now.
Getting back to Romney’s comment, it’s a little difficult to know how Edison would have responded to today’s regulations, though, as Plum Line noted, Edison was a Republican back in the days when Republicans favored more regulation than Democrats.
But it is simply incorrect to say that “Obama’s regulators” banned the incandescent bulb.
Clearly Mitt didn’t have anyone contact Edison’s great grandson, who recently wrote in Politico:
If my great-grandfather, Thomas Edison, were alive today, I have no doubt he’d view Congress as most Americans do — with anger and disgust. His reasons would be personal, however. The House Republicans’ effort to stifle lighting innovation flies in the face of everything this great American innovator and path-breaking businessman stood for.
So what’s the light bulb kerfuffle about? Starting Jan. 1, the bulbs you buy must be more efficient and use less electricity, under a 2007 law signed by President George W. Bush.
This would have thrilled my great-grandfather. Edison was one of history’s most prolific inventors, with nearly 1,100 patents involving electricity, the phonograph, one of the first ticker tapes and much more.
Many, if not most, of his inventions involved making things work better and more efficiently. He would have been at the forefront of efforts to do the same with his light bulb. After all, innovation and invention defined him.
Somehow, though, this new efficiency law is being demonized and misrepresented by a small group of political ideologues in and out of Congress. They have spun a fear-mongering tale that has left some Americans confused and frightened. There are crazy claims that incandescent light bulbs will be banned, and that Big Brother government is running your life.
This is nonsense. The new standards don’t outlaw the incandescent bulb. Instead, they have spurred much needed innovation and improvements — the kind Edison loved. You are still able to buy incandescent bulbs. The difference is they will use less electricity and cut energy costs.
Luckily, House Republicans’ latest effort to derail this with a legislative rider that defunds enforcement for a few months amounts to little more than a speed bump on the road to the light bulb revolution.