South Carolina Considers Reviving Incandescent Light Bulbs

Published April 13, 2012

Federal energy policies designed to rid the nation of traditional incandescent light bulbs continue to encounter popular resistance, with South Carolina’s legislature considering its own unique act of defiance.

Intrastate Bulbs Considered

Lawmakers in Columbia are pondering a proposed “Incandescent Light Bulb Freedom Act,” a measure that would skirt Washington’s heavy hand by allowing the traditional bulbs to be manufactured and sold in the Palmetto State provided they are labeled “Made in South Carolina.”

By restricting the manufacture and sale of “Made in South Carolina” light bulbs to the Palmetto State, the bill’s proponents hope to avoid any conflicts with the Constitution’s broadly interpreted Interstate Commerce Clause.  

Energy Act Forbids Incandescents

Approved by a Democratically controlled Congress and signed into law by Republican President George W. Bush in 2007, the “Energy Independence and Security Act” requires, among other things, the nationwide phase-out of incandescent light bulbs over a period of several years.

Under the law, enacted in the name of promoting energy efficiency, the manufacture and importation of the popular 100-watt incandescent bulb was to end on Jan. 1, 2012, with the phase-out of 75-, 60-, and 40-watt bulbs to be carried out in 2013 and 2014. They are to be replaced by more energy-efficient light bulbs, with compact fluorescent lights (CFLs), halogen lights, and LEDs (light-emitting diodes) currently the only commercially available replacements.

Under the law, all light bulbs sold by 2020 must be 70 percent more energy efficient than their traditional predecessors.

On average, incandescent light bulbs last between 700 and 1,000 hours; LEDs and CFLs last as much as 10 to 15 times longer. However, the new bulbs are far more expensive, and complaints about the poor quality of light they produce have spread far and wide. 

House Approved, Senate Considering

The “Incandescent Light Bulb Freedom Act” was approved by the South Carolina House last year and is pending in the Senate. Supporters, such as Sen. Kevin Bryant (R-Anderson), argue the federal government shouldn’t be telling people what kind of light bulbs they can buy. But Ryan Black of the Coastal Conservation League told a Senate panel in early February the bill circumvents federal efforts to save electricity.  

Standing Up for Consumer Choice

Daniel Simmons, director of state policy at the Institute for Energy Research, applauds South Carolina legislators for attempting to stand up for consumers. However, he says he’s uncertain whether the law would withstand legal challenges.

“Kudos to South Carolina for standing up to micromanagement from Washington, DC,” Simmons said. “The light bulb mandate is one more example of myopic policymakers in Washington deciding they know what’s best for us.

“Regular Americans are more than smart enough to decide for themselves which light bulbs to buy,” Simmons explained. “We don’t need busybody politicians limiting our options.”

Bonner R. Cohen, Ph. D. ([email protected]) is a senior fellow at the National Center for Public Policy Research.