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Tuesday, June 21, 2011

The CFL Fraud and a Cowardly Congress

“It is impossible to introduce into society a greater change and a greater evil than this: the conversion of the law into an instrument of plunder.” — Frederic Bastiat, The Law.

I have two outside lights on either side of my garage doors that I leave on from dusk to dawn. The lights are on timers so they come on just after sunset and just prior to sunrise. I have these lights for security purposes as our deputy sheriff and our neighborhood watch liaison told us that lights are one of the best deterrents against people with malicious intentions.

So trying to be energy and monetary frugal I replaced the traditionalcfl_all2l incandescent 150 watt bulbs I had in the fixtures with those hyped curly-cue CFL bulbs. Several years ago I went to the local big box home improvement store and bought two bulls for a very low cost. These bulbs were rated at emitting the equivalent of a 150 watt bulb while using less than half the energy of the traditional bulb. The bulbs cost about $4 each and were advertised to last for five years.

Six months later I was back at the home improvement store to buy replacements for my “five-year” bulbs. These bulbs lasted for almost a year and I was back again at the store to get replacements. Once again the bulbs did not last close to the five years as advertised. Finally last month I bought my fifth set of replacement “five year” bulbs for $10 each. Somehow the bulbs increased in price by 150%. This is what happens when government sets a standard and you no longer have a choice of product

The CFL bulb is a fraud. It is more expensive, it flickers, it contains poisonous mercury and like all fluorescent lights it can suck the calcium out of your skin. There also have been numerous reported incidences of them exploding sending shattered glass all over and causing fires.

On April 19th Edmund Contoski wrote in American Thinker:

“A compact fluorescent light (CFL) on the ceiling burst and started a fire in a home in Hornell, N.Y. December 23, 2010. "Those are the lights everybody's been telling us to use," said Joe Gerych, Steuben County Fire Inspector. "It blew up like a bomb. It spattered all over." Fire Chief Mike Robbins said the blaze destroyed the room where the fire started and everything in it, and the rest of the house suffered smoke and water damage. The Arkport Village Fire Department as well as the North Hornell Fire Department required about 15 minutes to put out the fire. Link

"Bulb explodes without warning," reported, May 21, 2010.

"Tom and Nancy Heim were watching TV recently, when Tom decided to turn on the floor lamp next to his recliner chair. 'I heard this loud pop. I saw what I thought was smoke, coming out of the top of the floor lamp,' says Tom. Nancy suddenly found glass in her lap. She says, 'I did not see it. I just heard it, and I noticed I had glass on me.'" Link

On February 23, 2011, TV NewsChannel 5 in Tennessee covered "a newly-released investigators' report that blames a February 12 fatal fire in Gallatin on one of those CFL bulbs." Ben Rose, an attorney for the rehabilitative facility in which Douglas Johnson, 45, perished, said, "This result is consistent with our own private investigation. We have heard reports of similar fires being initiated by CFLs across the country." Link

Here are some examples from across the country:

GE Helical 13 Watt light bulb. After only 6 months of use. This bulb started making funny noises and flickering. Finally, exploded on my kitchen table." -- Charles of South Webster, OH January 30, 2010. Link

"My GE 20W Helical bulb in my 1/2 bathroom caught on fire on 5/3/10.  The bulb snapped and glowed very brightly then caught on fire. The bulb was suppose to last 5 years but it was only about a year or so old. I tried replacing it with a GE 26W bulb and the same thing happened immediately." -- Chantelle of Danville, PA May 15, 2010 Link

"My 80 year old mother turned on her reading lamp and the bulb exploded and the lamp shade caught fire. She unplugged the lamp from the wall and the fire went out thank God." -- M. of Lahaina, HI March 30, 2010 Link

"I turned on an overhead bathroom light bulb and heard a pop and it exploded falling into the bathroom sink. Nearly all of the flying glass went straight down so little damage was done; however, I was very thankful it did not get in my eyes." -- Patricia of Sammamish, WA October 20, 2010 Link

"We purchased a 3-way light bulb this past year. [Special 3-way CFLs are made but cost more.] Last night the bulb started a fire in the lamp. Had we not been there our house might have burned down." -- Tina of Redding, CT July 10, 2010. Link

October 5, 2010 the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission reported: "Trisonic Compact Fluorescent Light Bulbs Recalled Due to Fire Hazard" because of four incidents. It's official notice states: "Hazard: light bulb can overheat and catch fire." Link

Concerns about the toxic mercury in CFLs are downplayed by the bulbs' advocates, but they shouldn't be. According to EPA and other sources, the safe limit is 300 nanograms per cubic meter. When a broken CFL was reported in Maine, the state's Department of Environmental Protection did the most extensive testing in the nation to evaluate the health risk. Its 160-page report is shocking:

“Mercury concentration in the study room air often exceeds the...300 nanograms per cubic meter (ng/m3) for some period of time, with short excursions over 25,000 ng/m3, sometimes over 50,000 ng/m3. Link

The Maine report states that although following its recommended procedure for home cleanup

“Produces visibly clean flooring surfaces for both wood and carpets, all types of flooring surfaces tested can retain mercury sources even when visibly clean. Flooring surfaces, once visibly clean, can emit mercury immediately at the source that can be greater than 50,000 ng/m3”

The recommended cleanup procedures are onerous, inconvenient, time consuming and must be followed exactly to avoid exacerbating the health risk and incurring financial expense. For example, EPA Link recommends:

  1. “Never use a vacuum cleaner to clean up mercury... The vacuum will put mercury into the air and increase exposure." You will also be looking at the cost of a new vacuum cleaner, because the Maine DEP research found it "difficult to impossible" to decontaminate a vacuum even with the advantage of sophisticated instruments the homeowner doesn't have.
  2. Never use a broom to clean up mercury. It will break the mercury into smaller droplets and spread them.
  3. Never pour mercury down a drain. It may lodge in the plumbing and cause future problems during plumbing repairs or cause pollution of the septic tank or sewage treatment plant.
  4. Never wash clothing or other items that have come in direct contact with mercury in a washing machine, because mercury may contaminate the machine and/or pollute sewage.
  5. On December 2, 2010, Germany's Federal Environment Agency (UBA) reported mercury levels from broken CFLs twenty times higher than regulations allow in the surrounding air for up to five hours after breakage. Link Based on a new method to measure mercury from broken CFLs, the New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection reports that only one-third of the mercury release occurs during the first 8 hours after breakage.  During the following two-week period, 17% to 40 percent of the mercury is released into the air. Link According to the Maine study, dangerous levels of mercury can remain in the air for days, weeks, or in at least one case, months.

Contoski continues:

Utility companies are spending hundreds of millions of dollars to subsidize consumer purchases of CFLs, but the benefits are "less than expected," according to the Wall Street Journal. One reason is that the bulbs are burning out faster than expected. When Pacific Gas & Electric began the program, "it figured the useful life of each bulb would be 9.4 years. Now, with experience, it has cut its estimate to 6.3 years, which limits the energy savings." PG&E had overstated bulb life by 49 percent! As a result of this and other factors, the energy savings were a whopping 73 percent less than the 1.7 billion kilowatt hours projected by PG&E. Link

Cost comparisons between CFLs and incandescents are misleading for reasons beside CFL's falling far short of their advertised bulb life and energy savings. In California, for example, the average cost of CFLs subsidized by the utility companies is $1.30 compared to $4 for unsubsidized bulbs.  But that cost comparison doesn't include the fact the utility companies use ratepayer funds to subsidize the bulbs. The state also subsidizes the bulbs with rewards and incentives to the utilities. PG&E collected $104 million of this money. So the taxpayers as well as the ratepayers are paying in ways that aren't included in the claims about how much money is saved with CFLs. Link

The advocates of CFLs complain that 90 percent of the energy from incandescents is wasted because it is given off as heat while only 10 percent gives illumination. It seems to have eluded these people that the heat can be a resource to be utilized, rather than wasted. A study by the Mackinac Center for Public Policy Link states: "The heat of incandescent lights -- more than 341 Btu per bulb per hour -- can help to warm a room. Therefore, if the cost of electricity is low relative to the cost of home heating fuel, there may be an economic case for changing to incandescent bulbs in colder seasons." The extent to which the heat from incandescents reduces home heating bills in the winter -- and CFLs cause higher heating bills -- is not included in cost comparisons. (Nor from my own experience in Minnesota do air conditioning costs resulting from summer use of incandescents come anywhere close to the winter savings on heating.)

Reducing the use of fossil fuels and lowering carbon dioxide emissions are given as reasons, besides cost, for switching to CFLs. But at least 85 percent of the CFLs are produced in China, with India in second place by a wide margin over any other country. Why is it that those who champion CFLs as a "green" solution for saving energy never consider the fossil fuel energy required to ship them 8,000 miles from China or India across the ocean to the U.S.?

CFLs emit a high percentage of ultraviolet rays. UV can damage oil paintings, acrylic paintings, photographs, upholstery fabrics, furniture, and flooring finishes. (Link Link Link Link) It can not only fade the colors in upholstery fabrics but actually weaken the fibers. “

The Republican House is flinching on passing the simplest and most symbolic piece of legislation this term: repeal of the incandescent light bulb phase out. Amidst great fanfare and promises to restore limited government, the new majority is proving it isn't much different than the old majority.

The incandescent phase out required under the so-called Energy Independence and Security Act of 2007 starts with banning regular 100 watt light bulbs on Jan 1, 2012. 75 watters will be banned a year later. 60 watters fade in 2014.

Some of us still cling to a quaint notion that federal legislation ought to pass constitutional muster while fixing a problem serious enough to fix and do so while providing more benefits than the costs to implement. The light bulb ban fails to achieve all three:

1) It is unconstitutional (see American Thinker article of April 22, 2011);

2) Is a solution without a problem; and

3) bears costs far in excess of any benefits.

The light bulb ban was inspired by environmental and energy conservation zealots spooked by the global warming lobby. And those economic rent-seeking players in the lighting industry, who could benefit from legislated self-interest, were happy to join as co-conspirators. Those companies who were less enthused about the light bulb ban found resisting futile; in the end happy enough to delay the effective dates to allow for more orderly close down of factories and job eliminations. Not one of these bulbs is manufactured in the USA — they are made in China and India. It would have better for Obama to blame the use of the CFL bulb for the loss of American jobs rather than ATMs.

So, what have we learned since 2007? For starters, the global warming agenda has collapsed, polluted with data manipulation scandals. And where the data haven't been tainted by hyper-partisans, independent measurements are proving that global warming predictions are as useful as pre-season college football polls.

We have also learned that coal fired power plants, the leading villain in the light bulb ban morality play, haven't been affected one whit by energy conservation mandates for households. In fact not a single coal fired power plant has been taken off-line as a result of the steady conversion from household incandescents to CFLs in the past 5 years, and none ever will be. Those hyper-partisans from the likes of the Natural Resources Defense Council predicting that 30 coal fired plants would be eliminated due to the light bulb ban have never been challenged to name one. Name one, just one. Coal fired plants may get the axe from draconian EPA regulations, but not from household light bulbs.

Defenders of the light bulb ban have failed to provide a single rationale why the government should meddle with consumer light bulbs and force us to replace our incandescent bulbs. Do the incandescent bulbs present a safety hazard? No, certainly unlike the most prevalent replacement, the CFL laden with mercury. Do they present a performance or quality scam? Of course not, light output and reliability from incandescent light bulbs for household use has been the gold standard perfected over 75 years. And compared with any other light source that contains no hazardous components, incandescent light bulbs are still the cheapest product on the shelf. The State of Texas has resisted the federal ban on traditional light bulbs and you can still purchase and use them in the Lone Star State — don’t mess with Texas. Conversely, California, under the leadership of the illegitimate baby-maker, Arnold Schwarzenegger, bowing before the alter of the “greens” went whole hog on banning the incandescent bulb

The last remaining defense for the federal light bulb ban coming from NEMA, the National Electrical Manufacturers Association, the trade group for the light bulb industry, is the pre-emption defense. Because several states, notably California, were poised to enact their own consumer light bulb statutes — all different — the feds had to step in to create harmony. This is the bureaucrat's defense, devoid of principle, arguing that bad legislation is better than something worse. If individual states want to enact different product standards, let the marketplace decide whether manufacturers will produce such versions and let those states bear the higher costs for their commercial isolationism.

No doubt Congressional Republicans who aided and abetted the 2007 light bulb ban, are now feeling sheepish, unwilling to admit they were bumfuzzled and bamboozled. Rather than admit a mistake having negligible consequences in confessing, they would rather persist in a supporting a law that completely contradicts the Republicans' new agenda -- less government interference, fewer regulations, moratoria on cost burdens passed on to businesses and consumers, and restored liberties to the people.

There is no downside for any Republican, and even many conservative Democrats, to vote yes on the light bulb ban repeal. Who would be harmed by a repeal? Workers facing layoffs or those already unemployed? Consumers facing fewer, more expensive and less effective choices on retail shelves? Retailers faced with ultra-life light bulb substitutes seeing less traffic in their housewares aisles? Environmentalists and parents of young children who now have to cope with broad spectrum mercury contamination from kitchens and bedrooms to landfills?

What is the upside to vote upholding the light bulb ban? Is there any?

Who else would benefit from the repeal? Anyone in Congress who wants to get re-elected. And in addition to workers, consumers, retailers and environmentalists, the Republicans would benefit from proving their bona fides. The Republicans were swept into power by the force of the limited government agenda. Repealing the light bulb ban would at least be a symbolic victory, perhaps paving the way for more ambitious reversals.

Will the Republicans deliver the simplest legislative win on the path to stopping government interference in our daily lives — a task as easy as naming a post office? If not, there is no hope for repealing ObamaCare, reforming entitlements, reversing the EPA, enacting a balanced budget, or restoring the principles of limited government to this nation.

Once again, a government claiming that it knows what is best for people — and that takes away their right to choose for themselves in the matter — is a dismal failure. In light of the facts just presented, the federal law effectively banning incandescent light bulbs should be switched off.


  1. I've been reading a lot of issues about CFLs and the danger it may bring. I don't know if I already need to change my bulbs at home. All of my bulbs are CFLs. My contractor who took his Contractors Continuing Education said that LED is much better to use.

  2. Using incandescents as an excuse for supplementing the warmth of your home since electricity is so expensive is a pathetic reason at best to rec them.

    If you use CFLs outside, you need to buy one rated for OUTSIDE. There are two different types.

    Even your figures show that the CFLs have an advantage.
    When new things come out, there are always things learned. That shouldn't be a reason to avoid them.

    And how many fires have you heard mentioned due to incandescent light bulbs? Many. Exploding bulbs - it happens.

    LEDs are much better to use, but the payoff is longer due to higher cost. I would prefer them also.

    Flushing cleaning chemicals down the toilet or breathing air near a busy street is much more hazardous.