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House votes down "light bulb ban" bill

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A bill to beat back what critics are calling a ban on traditional light bulbs failed in the House of Representatives Tuesday.

The "Better Use of Light Bulbs Act," or BULB Act, would have repealed the efficiency standards set under the Energy Independence and Security Act of 2007.

That legislation - signed into law by President George W. Bush, with bipartisan support - mandates that light bulbs be 30 percent more efficient in 2012. It then imposes increasingly strict efficiency standards through 2020. The standards were devised as a way to save energy and cut pollution.

Backers of the BULB Act, sponsored by Rep. Joe Barton, say that because traditional incandescent bulbs cannot meet the strict standards in a cost-efficient way, they will be phased out in favor of more energy-efficient - and less desirable - options like curly florescent bulbs and LED bulbs. Florescent bulbs are more expensive than traditional incandescent bulbs, though the gap is closing as the newer bulbs become cheaper.

The so-called "light bulb ban" has become a rallying point for conservatives and libertarians, who complain of excessive government regulation of the market. They've found a champion in GOP presidential candidate Rep. Michele Bachmann, who vowed earlier this year to "allow you to buy any light bulb you want" if she becomes president. Talk show hosts Rush Limbaugh and Glenn Beck have also championed the issue, with Limbaugh saying on the air, "Let there be incandescent light and freedom -- that's the American way."

Rep. Michael Burgess, a Texas Republican who co-sponsored the bill, complained on Fox News before the vote of Congress wading "into an area where it doesn't belong, picking winners and losers in the light bulb manufacturing process."

"When I go home at night, the federal government does not have the right to dictate to me the wavelength of light that I use to read my newspaper," added Burgess, who said the new bulbs are more expensive, more dangerous and less effective as traditional bulbs. The coming standards have caused a run on traditional incandescent bulbs in some home improvement stores, with some consumers stockpiling them before the standards go into effect.

Bachmann introduced her own bill to repeal the Energy Independence and Security Act standards, but the House took up the BULB Act instead. (Barton, unlike Bachmann, is on the House Energy and Commerce Committee, which has jurisdiction over the issue.)

Though Barton's bill got a majority in the GOP-led House - the vote was 233 in favor to 193 opposed - it failed because it was brought to the House floor in a way that required a two-thirds majority. Even if the bill had passed it would have been extremely unlikely to get through the Democrat-controlled Senate.

Democrats say the 2007 law does not ban incandescent bulbs, since they have become more efficient, and note the standards were backed by nearly 100 Republicans. Citing the Natural Resources Defense Council, they say the standards will save Americans more than $12.5 billion annually in energy costs, or an average of $85 per household each year.

Democrats also criticize Republicans for being interested in little more than political posturing, noting that the Energy and Commerce Committee has approved just a dozen bills in the current Congress, none of which have reached President Obama.

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