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Tuesday, December 11 , 2018, 6:33 am | Fair 42º


Harris Sherline: Shedding Light on Bulb Ban

New law to phase out incandescent light bulbs isn't such a bright idea

As usual, while most of the American public wasn’t looking, Congress passed and the president, George W. Bush, signed into law another bill that will blindside Americans by imposing some new restriction or mandate that no one really wants or needs. A good example is the energy bill approved by Congress in 2007 that bans the use of incandescent light bulbs beginning in 2012 and will completely phase them out by 2014.

Harris Sherline
Harris Sherline

Bush signed the 822-page measure into law, and Rep. John Dingell, D-Mich, chairman of the House Energy and Commerce Committee, said the legislation would boost the energy efficiency of “almost every significant product and tool and appliance that we use, from light bulbs to light trucks.”

The phase-out of incandescent light is scheduled to begin with the 100-watt bulb in 2012 and end with the 40-watt bulb in 2014.

All light bulbs must use 25 percent to 30 percent less energy 2014. By 2020, bulbs must be 70 percent more efficient than they are today.

Australia was the first country to announce an outright ban by 2010.

Sounds good, doesn’t it? Taking responsibility for reducing America’s energy use, that is. But just how good is it?

At the risk of raining on the parade of those who may think this is a good idea, the following are some of the unintended consequences of the legislation:

» 1) It will have a negative effect on the economy. General Electric already has closed its last major bulb-producing factory in the United States, abandoning their manufacture to China.

» 2) Compact fluorescent lights are the least expensive alternative and last much longer than incandescent bulbs, but they take longer to turn on and can flicker.

» 3) Fluorescent bulbs also contain small amounts of highly toxic mercury, which is classified as “hazardous” material. The problem arises when a bulb breaks. Mercury vapor escapes into the air, which can be inhaled and can settle into carpet, curtains or drapes. The Environmental Protection Agency recommends that the room be ventilated immediately and that all people and pets vacate for at least 15 minutes. In addition, central heating or air conditioning should be turned off.

After the room is aired out, the broken bulb should be picked off the carpet or other surfaces, wearing gloves to avoid contact, then use sticky tape or duct tape to pick up smaller fragments. Hard surfaces should be wiped down with a damp paper towel or a wet wipe. Then place all materials in a sealable plastic bag or a glass jar with a metal lid.

Unfortunately, you’re not done yet. Read on for the rest of the process of cleaning up after breaking a fluorescent light bulb.

Do not vacuum or sweep the room, because that can spread the mercury to other parts of the house.

Finally, disposing of fluorescent bulbs that have burned out also can be a major headache. In many places it is illegal to throw them out with regular garbage, which means you may have to take them to the closest recycling facility, often miles away from your home or office.

The Association of Lighting and Mercury Recyclers — who knew there was such an organization? — estimates a recycling rate of only 2 percent, noting: “Our first preference is not to see them go into landfills.”

In some areas, you may be required to call a local hazardous materials crew to clean up a broken fluorescent light bulb, at an estimated cost of $2,000.

Stephen Frank noted in his California Political News and Views: “As for me, I believe I have stocked up on real, cheap, light bulbs — should last 10 years or more. I have lots of light bulbs. Plus when they run out, I am positive there will be a black market in real light bulbs.”

Typical of the bureaucratic mindset, legislators and government regulators seem to think the new law not only will significantly reduce America’s energy use but that the population in general will obey the rules and dispose of fluorescent light bulbs as prescribed. But I submit that human nature will prevail and people simply will continue to toss used bulbs into the trash, where they will be carted off to landfills, break in the process, leak mercury into the surrounding area and potentially drain into aquifers below. A few bulbs won’t matter, but consider the risk if millions, perhaps billions, of broken or used fluorescent light bulbs are simply thrown into the trash.

What then? Is that a risk we’re really willing to accept?

As for me, I plan to stock up on incandescent bulbs before the ban takes effect in 2012. Given my age, it shouldn’t be a problem to buy enough to avoid ever having to use fluorescent bulbs.

How about you? What do you plan to do?

— Harris R. Sherline is a retired CPA and former chairman and CEO of Santa Ynez Valley Hospital who has lived in Santa Barbara County for more than 30 years. He stays active writing opinion columns and his blog, Opinionfest.com.

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