Congress offers glimmer of hope for incandescent lightbulb

The House's passage of a $1.1 trillion spending bill Wednesday that dictates the budgets for all federal agencies may be a desperately needed lifeline for the lightbulb.

The bill includes a prohibition on funding for “the administration’s onerous ‘lightbulb’ standard,” as Appropriations Committee Chairman Hal Rogers, R-Ky., described it, which had sought to dramatically improve the energy efficiency of ordinary incandescent lightbulbs but ultimately spelled the end of the road for the century-old technology.

A portion of that 2007 law, which finally took effect on Jan. 1, mandated that manufacturers improve their lightbulbs: 40W bulbs must draw just 10.5W, and 60W bulbs must draw no more than 11W. The result is, effectively, a ban: Incandescents simply can’t keep up with those twisty compact fluorescent (CFL) and newer LED bulbs.

But there's hope for those glass globes yet, however: Citing “a continued public desire for these products,” the Energy and Water Appropriations section of the bill would prohibit funds to implement or enforce the higher efficiency lightbulb standards.

“None of the funds made available in this act may be used … to implement or enforce the standards established by the tables contained in section 325(i)(1)(B) of the Energy Policy and Conservation Act,” reads section 322 of the bill.

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Critics call the funding ban a nuisance, but said it likely won’t stop the shift toward more energy-efficient bulbs, according to USA Today.

"The market has marched forward despite this rider," Franz Matzner, associate director of government affairs at the Natural Resources Defense Council, told the paper. "The manufacturers have all been saying, 'we're going to comply anyway'."

The demise of the incandescent bulb might come as a surprise to most Americans. A recent study by Lutron pointed out that fewer than 1 in 3 adults (just 28 percent) were aware of the planned phaseout. A similar Socket Survey by Sylvania showed slightly more awareness -- 4 in 10 were aware of the phaseout, it revealed.

A quick check of Home Depot’s website indicates no shortage of incandescent bulbs; the company sells a six-pack for just under $10 -- and for the born hoarder, a pack of 288 for $118.

In late December, Home Depot told it had a six-month stockpile before the supplies ran out.