Get PolitiFact in your inbox.

By Bartholomew Sullivan January 13, 2012

Marsha Blackburn says she is battling for freedom of choice – for energy-inefficient light bulbs

U.S. Rep. Marsha Blackburn, R-Tenn., has been on a crusade to, as she put it on the House floor in July, prevent higher efficiency standards for light bulbs from creating "a de facto ban on the incandescent bulb." In an appearance on the Fox Business Channel in December, she re-calibrated her rhetorical salvo when she told Stuart Varney she’s fighting "to keep our freedom of choice and selection in the light bulbs we have in our homes."

Like many critics of the higher efficiency standards, which President George W. Bush signed into law in 2007, Blackburn said she was concerned with government limiting consumer choice. The House voted 233-193 in July to repeal the higher standards but the measure failed to get the two-thirds majority necessary to fast-track the bill to the House floor.

The Obama administration issued a statement before the vote that said consumers still have freedom of choice under the law. "Any type of bulb can be sold as long as it meets the efficiency requirements.  In sum, the bill would hinder an opportunity to save American consumers money, while enhancing energy efficiency and reducing harmful emissions associated with energy production."

Supporters of the standards say the higher-efficiency bulbs mandated by the Energy Independence and Security Act not only save energy but, despite higher up-front costs, save consumers money over time because the bulbs last longer.

So does the imposition of higher energy standards amount to a "de facto ban" on incandescent bulbs? Does it strip away "our freedom of choice and selection in the light bulbs we have in our homes?"

The short answer is no. Existing inefficient bulbs will stay in circulation and will continue to be sold to consumers until supplies run out. And while traditional tungsten-element bulbs can’t meet the higher standards and will not be manufactured, light bulb companies are continuing to make incandescent halogen bulbs, although they are more expensive than incandescent tungsten. So the only way you could consider there to be a ban would be if you couldn't  afford the halogen bulbs.

The Natural Resources Defense Council, an environmental group that supports the higher standards, points out that the trade association for domestic light manufacturers, the National Electrical Manufacturers Association, which would appear to have an interest in a banning of its products, has embraced the increased efficiency standards. The NRDC also notes that a factory in St. Marys, Pa., is retooling to make more efficient incandescent bulbs, creating domestic jobs.

In perhaps the most telling endorsement of the higher standards, Barry Edison Sloane, the great-grandson of the inventor of the incandescent bulb, Thomas Edison, called those who sought their repeal "narrow-minded." Consumers Union, which produces Consumer Reports, also endorses the higher standards.

Asked for source material, Blackburn’s spokesman Mike Reynard said: "It’s a de facto ban because traditional incandescent light bulbs can’t meet the new energy standards. An American innovation may be able to create a new incandescent bulb 2.0 -- which can meet the new standards -- but it won’t be the incandescent bulb your parents grew up with."

Traditional 100-watt incandescent bulbs would have been the first to fail to meet the new standards that were to have taken effect Jan. 1. Congress in late December effectively delayed that until October 2012. Other traditional incandescents will fail to meet the lumens-per-watt standard between then and 2014, when the standard for 40-watt bulbs kicks in. Several kinds of incandescent bulbs within those wattage ranges are exempt from the new standards, including appliance bulbs, colored bulbs and stage lighting in theaters.

PolitiFact has checked many other assertions regarding the light bulb controversy, finding a claim by the conservative political action committee AmeriPAC that "you will be mandated by federal law to get rid of your existing light bulbs" to be a "Pants on Fire"-level misrepresentation. Others have been equally misleading, particularly Varney, who can be found in a 2009 debate with environmentalist actor Ed Begley Jr. stating: "The government is telling me I may not have incandescent lights."

Our ruling

Blackburn has been more careful in qualifying the language she uses to advance her cause. Because the standards will ultimately bring about the end of traditional incandescent bulbs, there is an element of truth in Blackburn’s claims. But consumers will still have plenty of choice of different types of bulbs, even if traditional incandescents are not for sale.

We rate the statement Mostly False.

Featured Fact-check

Our Sources

Marsha Blackburn speech, U.S. House of Representatives, July 9, 2011.

Email from Rep. Blackburn’s office, July 11, 2011.

Interview with Natural Resources Defense Council, July 2011., roundup of light bulb claims, July 2011.

Fox News Channel’s "Your World With Neil Cavuto," Stuart Varney debating Ed Begley Jr., Fox Business Channel, Stuary Varney debating Begley, Nov. 24, 2009.

Fox Business Channel’s "Varney & Co.", Marsha Blackburn interview with Stuart Varney, Dec. 16, 2011.

Browse the Truth-O-Meter

More by Bartholomew Sullivan

Marsha Blackburn says she is battling for freedom of choice – for energy-inefficient light bulbs

Support independent fact-checking.
Become a member!

In a world of wild talk and fake news, help us stand up for the facts.

Sign me up