Wednesday, March 19, 2008

No 'right' to use inefficient light bulbs

Portland Press Herald


If 'The Government' can inspect meat, bar leaded paint and set auto mileage, it can ban bulbs.

Dudley Greeley
March 19, 2008

Let's shed new light on the contention that "The Government" shouldn't "force" people to use certain kinds of light bulbs.

Does the establishment of science-based, technologically appropriate and stakeholder-developed product standards amount to a use of "force"?

Is this America, where people can use any light bulbs in any manner they choose?

Or, is this America, where people have a right to make "private" choices only if these choices don't unfairly impose costs on others?

Modern society is complicated and interdependent to an extraordinary degree.

Most of us gratefully delegate to our government the difficult task of ensuring a safe food supply, determining that medicines are safe and effective, and keeping dangerous products out of our homes and communities.

If we choose to buy meat in America, do we complain that we are "forced" to buy "USDA Inspected" products?

Are we "forced" to buy regulated and tested pharmaceuticals or are we lucky to live in a society that offers this service?

Don't we all benefit because our government finally got the lead out of most paint, "forcing" paint buyers to select safer paint?

OK, so light bulbs are different from food, pills and paint, but the issue of establishing minimum acceptable standards for "safe and effective" light bulbs isn't really all that different.

Using longer-life, more efficient (and thus effective) light bulbs will save Americans billions of dollars, reduce emissions of greenhouse gases , and protect watersheds by reducing the need to mine, transport, and burn coal.

The new standards don't proscribe any specific technology -- just set efficiency standards that phase in over a number of years.

The marketplace remains "free" to produce incandescent light bulbs if they meet current efficiency standards.

For decades, as technology has permitted, similar standards have been established for a wide range of other products, including refrigerators, televisions and dishwashers.

Our government also went beyond establishing minimum standards and developed a higher, voluntary standard, (Energy Star) that has been widely supported by manufacturers and smart shoppers alike.

The standards aren't arbitrarily imposed. They result from sometimes years of negotiation and assessments by a wide range of stakeholders, including the manufacturers.

While some may insist there is a "right" (presumably guaranteed by The Government) to use inefficient light bulbs, this is not necessarily the case.

A close look at the consequences of the supposedly "private" choice to use inefficient equipment makes clear the behavior comes with unacceptable public costs that are forced upon society and our environment.

Others in the human community not only have a right but an obligation to protect the public's interests.

Hidden "behind the light switch" in private homes or businesses powered with fossil-fuels are costs that aren't found on the monthly electric bill.

Half of America's electricity is generated by burning coal. While the process does offer personal and social benefits, it also imposes perhaps 4 or 5 cents per kilowatt hour in unwanted social, environmental and health care costs that are not paid by generators.

Efficiency standards for bulbs protect the public welfare.

The marketplace protects Americans' "right" to choices with a bright array of efficient new lamps that offer brightness equivalencies from 2 watts to many hundreds of watts in many "colors" of white, types of bases, shapes of lamps, dimmable bulbs, floods, spots, three-ways, induction, cold-cathode. LED, HID, EL, lead-free, etc.

Some even take a moment to reach full brightness just like candles and oil lamps, but you don't have to trim a wick.

— Special to the Press Herald

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