Lights Out: Government Making War on the Light Bulb?

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HOLLOWVILLE, N.Y. -- It's been called the war on the light bulb -- the government's attempt to legislate what kind of light bulbs consumers can buy.

Even though the old-fashioned incandescent bulb has not been completely banned, you might not be able to find them in your home improvement store much longer.

For more than 130 years, Thomas Edison's incandescent bulb has lit up homes around the world.

Now, the light bulb as we know it may soon be a thing of the past.

Energy-Saving Move?

In 2007, Congress passed the Energy Independence and Security Act. Republicans in Congress fought its enactment late last year, saying the government shouldn't be able to determine what kind of light bulbs consumers should buy.

They managed to strip the law of the funding needed to enforce the ban on Edison's bulb.

However, even though Congress took the teeth out of the law, one lighting industry spokesman said it's too late. The industry has moved on and has already made changes to production lines to build more efficient bulbs.

The law requires basic light bulbs to be about 25 percent more efficient, and that removes traditional incandescent bulbs from the market.

"I think it's very wise because maybe 40 or 50 years ago, it wouldn't have worked because there weren't alternatives, but now you have plenty of great energy efficient alternatives that give you the same look and feel of an incandescent," Sandra Miles, a veteran of the telecommunications and lighting industries and president of the Goeken Group of Companies, told CBN News.

Those alternatives primarily fall into two categories: CFLs, known for their curly shape, and light-emitting diodes or LEDs. They're supposed to save energy and last a lot longer than traditional light bulbs.

However, lighting professional Howard Brandston isn't ready to give up on a bulb that's not broken. He's known for lighting structures like the Statue of Liberty and Malaysia's twin towers.

Save the Bulb

Brandston stands by Edison's invention, using traditional incandescent bulbs to light his home.

"I see no good reason to relegate one of America's greatest inventions to the dustbin of history -- other than to suit the particular interests of uninformed politicians, light manufacturing giants and their lobbyists, and energy zealots," Brandston wrote on his website, Save the Bulb.

"I know a couple of senior researchers in the lighting industry who've started to hoard light bulbs, and me included because I might not win this fight, although I'm dedicated to it," he said.

His dedication includes a lifetime supply of bulbs stored in his basement.

Expensive, Toxic Bulbs?

So why won't this lighting designer embrace the future? For one, the CFL alternative contains mercury.

"They banned mercury in thermometers," Brandston said. "Now they're saying, 'Hey, in light bulbs, it's okay, but in thermometers, no.' That's because it's been pushed by the lamp manufacturers and what I call the 'green machine.'"

Miles, whose company specializes in LED lighting, agreed with Brandston when it comes to the toxicity of CFLs.

"I think they're dangerous; I don't like to use them," Miles said. "I had one fall on my carpet the other day from just where I was testing and photographing them, and even on soft carpet, it just smashed into smithereens because of the thin glass, and immediately my secretary left the room. I called somebody else to help clean up. They wouldn't have anything to do with it."

The Environmental Protection Agency states the use of CFLs helps reduce mercury emissions in the U.S. because of "their significant energy savings."

Yet, the EPA also has detailed instructions on its website of what to do if a CFL breaks in your home.

"With an enormous cleanup procedure... then you've got to pick up the parts, put them in a sealed glass jar, or double bag them in sealed plastic bags," Brandston said. "Nobody's going to do this; you can't vacuum it up."

Unlike CFLs, Miles said LED lighting is not delicate.

"These are virtually unbreakable, and 50,000 hours of warrantied life," she said. "They are going to be more available, and one of the exciting things is the creativity that is allowed. In a bulb like this, we're actually able to use the LEDs and make a sign of the Cross."

Be prepared to pay quite a bit more for the LEDs and CFLs.

For example, you can pay a buck for a three-pack of traditional bulbs, while a three-pack of CFLs can cost around $10 to $15. LEDs cost the most.

"You could be anywhere from $10 to $25, $30 a lamp, depending on the wattage equivalent -- the more LEDs, the more expensive," Miles said.

Light Bulb Socialism

Miles hopes the attraction of energy savings and long life will win over consumers.

Brandston still favors the uninterrupted, smooth color spectrum emitted by Edison's old-fashioned, low-cost bulb.

His opinion may not matter, though, as the industry moves forward to comply with regulations that some call "light bulb socialism."

--Originally aired May 31, 2012.

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Mark Martin is a reporter and anchor at CBN News, covering various issues from military matters to alternative fuels. Mark has reported internationally in the Middle East and traveled to Bahrain to cover stories on the U.S.S. Dwight D. Eisenhower. Follow Mark on Twitter @MarkMartinCBN and "like" him at Facebook.com/MarkMartinCBN.