Biden turns the lights out on yet another one of your home's essentials

It is lights out for yet one more of our freedoms

Don’t expect to see incandescent light bulbs for sale anymore. They are now an illegal product thanks to a Biden administration regulation, and any retailer or online seller offering them for purchase will be subject to full enforcement by the federal government.

The crackdown on Thomas Edison’s familiar light bulb has been in the works for a long time. It started with provisions tucked into the big 2007 energy bill signed into law by then-President George Bush. These provisions created energy efficiency standards for residential lighting that incandescent bulbs would have great difficulty achieving.  They were designed to get progressively more stringent in the ensuing years.

At the time, many environmental activists and some advantage-seeking light bulb manufacturers were aggressively pushing compact fluorescent lamps (CFL) as the green alternative. But those twisty CFL bulbs, with their high price and harsh glare, proved very unpopular with consumers – a backlash not unlike the one seen early this year after a Biden administration official suggested banning gas stoves.  Nonetheless the Obama administration Department of Energy (DOE), in its waning days in January 2017, finalized rules accelerating the demise of incandescent bulbs.

President Trump came in and reversed these measures, giving something of a reprieve for the old-fashioned bulbs. He even made lighting quality a recurring theme at his rallies, saying things like "I look better under an incandescent light...."


BERLIN, GERMANY - OCTOBER 17: Energy savings through energy-efficient products. An incandescent light bulb is replaced by a LED lamp. (Photo illustration by Thomas Trutschel/Photothek via Getty Images) (Photo illustration by Thomas Trutschel/Photothek via Getty Images)

But now, the Biden DOE has effectively reinstated the Obama measures, marking an end to incandescent bulbs. The final rule claims both consumer and climate change benefits in doing so. Technically, incandescent bulbs have been illegal since this rule became effective in 2022, but regulators chose not to use their full enforcement authority against retailers in order to give them time to sell off existing supplies. But the leniency ended in July of 2023, and now anyone trying to sell such bulbs risks significant fines and possibly worse.

Fortunately, manufacturers have developed a much better replacement than those awful CFLs. Light-emitting diode (LED) bulbs are efficient enough to meet the current DOE requirements while providing a light quality most find satisfactory. LEDs have been gaining market share in recent years, but they do cost more and have a few other drawbacks. For example, they do not work as well with dimmers as they tend to flicker (though manufacturers are closing the gap). And the cheaper incandescent bulbs still make sense for rarely used lights, such as in attics or basements, where energy efficiency doesn’t make much difference. In addition, simply having incandescent bulbs on the market exerted a measure of price discipline on LEDs that is gone now that LEDs are the only game in town.

But the real issue isn’t which bulb is best. It’s who should get to decide, consumers or the government.  The very fact that LEDs have been catching on shows that markets are working and that there is no reason to deprive choice to those consumers who still prefer incandescent lighting.

Nonetheless, it is lights out for yet one more of our freedoms. 

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