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Environmentalists Call New TX Light Bulb Law Political Grandstanding

June 20, 2011

AUSTIN, Texas - One of the bills Gov. Perry signed into law over the weekend allows Texas to make an end run around the 2007 Energy Independence Act, which phases out the sale of inefficient light bulbs by 2014. The new law says Texans can continue to buy whatever bulbs they want - as long as they're made and sold in the state.

Critics say the measure is political grandstanding - that no manufacturers are likely to start producing old-style incandescent bulbs for just one state. Supporters say they don't like federal intrusion, but Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC) spokesman Bob Keefe says most people do not mind energy-efficiency-motivated restrictions on some consumer products.

"You don't see anybody saying we need to go back to cars that only get 10 miles a gallon, or we need to turn in our high-efficiency refrigerators and go back to the world of ice boxes."

There's nothing radical about switching to more efficient bulbs, Keefe says, pointing out that the national standards were signed into law by President George W. Bush. According to the NRDC, Texas would see big benefits - economically and environmentally - by phasing out inefficient bulbs.

"We estimate that the state could reduce its overall energy costs by about $900 million a year, which would save the average Texas household about $100 a year."

He says the reduced power plant production would cut emissions as much as taking 1.1 million automobiles off the road.

While the federal plan does not outlaw incandescent bulbs - as long as they're designed to consume less energy - it is helping pave the way for compact fluorescents and more expensive LEDs to command a larger share of the lighting market. Disposal of compact fluorescents is a challenge, because they contain small amounts toxic mercury. However, Robin Schneider, executive director of Texas Campaign for the Environment, points out that power plants release greater amounts of mercury and other pollutants.

Still, she adds, consumers need more help dealing with compact fluorescents.

"We have light bulb makers who are marketing an environmentally-friendly product. However, they are not really addressing the environmental side effects of the mercury inside those florescent bulbs."

She supports legislation - as three other states have passed - that would compel manufacturers to take back used compact fluorescents and recycle the mercury. Lighting take-back bills were unsuccessfully introduced in Texas during the last two legislative sessions.

The Texas law takes effect Jan 1. Meanwhile, Texas Congressman Joe Barton (R-Arlington) is trying to repeal the national Energy Independence Act.

Peter Malof, Public News Service - TX