WASHINGTON - The lights will stay on in Washington, and they'll be burning incandescent bulbs.
A spending bill needed to prevent a federal government shutdown would block enforcement of new energy-efficiency rules for lightbulbs, letting old-style incandescent bulbs stay around a bit longer. The provision was a high priority of Republicans, who see the rules as a symbol of regulatory excess.
"This is an early Christmas present for all Americans," said Rep. Joe Barton (R., Texas).
Energy legislation signed by President George W. Bush in 2007 called for phasing out the old incandescent bulbs over three years, starting with 100-watt bulbs on Jan. 1, 2012, in favor of more efficient lighting.
The prohibition is included in a $915 billion spending bill approved by the House on Friday and sent to the Senate. The prohibition applies only to the current fiscal year, which ends Sept. 30.
Sen. Dianne Feinstein, (D., Calif.), who supports the new rules, said Republicans who pushed to block enforcement of the rules have "become deniers . . . of the fact that the climate is warming."
Rep. Ted Poe (R., Texas), a critic of the new rules, recently declared that "since the federal government has taken the power to choose away from Americans," consumers have been "flocking to their local Wal-Marts to hoard the last of the incandescent bulbs."
Unlike other GOP-sponsored efforts to rein in regulations that have drawn cheers from industry groups, this one didn't.
Kyle Pitsor of the National Electrical Manufacturers Association said it would create "regulatory uncertainty" for U.S. bulb manufacturers that have invested millions of dollars to produce more efficient bulbs. The provision, he said, would "allow potential bad actors to sell inefficient lightbulbs in the United States without any fear of federal enforcement," creating a competitive disadvantage for U.S. manufacturers."
But Sen. Jeff Bingaman (D., N.M.), chairman of the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee, said the provision could have limited practical effect since many bulb manufacturers are making more efficient bulbs. "If America is to have a rational energy policy, we need to make progress in efficiency," he said.
Critics have focused on the spiral fluorescent lights, which cost more, are made in China, contain mercury and, they say, don't give off as much light as the old bulbs.