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Light Bulb Follies

Laramie County Courthouse (Doug Randall/tsm)

~~By Boyd Wiggam  Wyoming Liberty Group~~

During the Laramie County Commission’s discussion on September 3, 2103 about whether to accept a grant from the Federal Aviation Administration to participate in an Airport Sustainable Master Plan Pilot Program, those in attendance were treated to a nice reminder of how misguided environmental crusades can be.

The Energy Independence and Security Act of 2007 effectively outlawed the manufacture or importation of some traditional incandescent light bulbs. Even if the ban has not gone into effect formally, the impact of the legislation is apparent when we try to find a simple, cheap 75-watt or 100-watt version of Thomas Edison’s technological innovation. The law is so aggressive that even 40-watt and 60-watt incandescent bulbs are scheduled for phase-out beginning January 1, 2014. Despite claims that “the standards are technology neutral,” even some on the political left will admit that the federal government has effectively banned incandescent light bulbs.

Generally speaking, compact florescent lamp (CFL) or light-emitting diode (LED) bulbs are offered as superior substitutes for the incandescent bulbs that we are familiar with because, according to the Department of Energy, “Traditional incandescent bulbs use a lot of energy to produce light. 90 percent of the energy is wasted as heat. That lost energy is money we are throwing away.” While farmers and ranchers have long relied on that wasted heat generated by incandescent light bulbs to keep newborn livestock alive, it turns out that the heat generated by incandescent bulbs is important as well for other businesses as they try to keep people alive.

David Haring, manager of the Cheyenne Regional Airport, demonstrated the irony of this regulatory overreach while discussing a broad definition of the term “sustainability.” In his presentation supporting the Airport’s request for authorization to accept the FAA’s grant to fund its Sustainable Management Plan, he explained how the airport must keep snow and ice from accumulating on outdoor light bulbs. The outdoor lights are required in order to ensure safety for planes and passengers using the airport runways. The fact that CFL and LED bulbs do not generate enough heat to melt the snow and ice in colder climates illustrates how one size of energy policy does not fit all situations. The new “sustainable” light bulbs do not self-defrost, therefore necessitating the installment of separate heaters to defrost those lights. The “wasted” heat from incandescent light bulbs turns out to be an essential feature of their effectiveness and utility for airports in the portions of our country where winter brings snow and ice.

Even though some incandescent light bulbs, including those for heat lamps, were exempted from the new federal regulations that effectively ban ordinary light bulbs, these two examples also illustrate how dangerous regulations designed to eliminate entire classes of technology can be. It is reasonable to ponder the question: What if no one in Washington realized that people adapted technology designed for light to use the heat in order to simply keep people and animals alive?

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