USA TODAY – S.C. bill aims to cut power to light bulb law

By Ron Barnett

If South Carolina Republican state Rep. Bill Sandifer has his way, incandescent light bulbs will keep burning brightly in his state, even if the rest of the, nation switches to compact fluorescent bulbs.

The South Carolina Incandescent Light Bulb Freedom Act, which is up for debate on the state House floor this week, would allow makers of the traditional bulbs in South Carolina to continue selling their product – but only in South Carolina.

That way, Sandifer says, the interstate commerce issue the federal government uses as its basis to regulate such things wouldn’t come into play, and the state’s rights would prevail.

“The hue and the brilliance of the (compact fluorescent) light is simply not what the American people, I believe, want to have,” says Sandifer, a funeral home owner who says the bill has strong support in both the state House and Senate, “More importantly, I believe this is an infringement by the feds on our 10th Amendment rights.”

The 10th Amendment says, “The powers not delegated to the United States by the Constitution, nor prohibited by it to the States, are reserved to the States respectively, or to the people.”

A 2007 federal law phases out incandescent light bulbs from the marketplace, starting with 100-watt bulbs next January.

Bills similar to South Carolina’s have been introduced this year in three other states – Texas, Georgia and Minnesota according to Glen Andersen, energy program director for the National Conference of State Legislatures.

Nationally, Sen. Jim DeMint, R-S.C., is a co-sponsor of the Better Use of Light Bulbs bill, introduced last month, which would repeal the new light bulb standards.

Terry McGowan, director of engineering and technology for the American Lighting Association, says the controversy has more to do with politics than science or economics.

According to the Environmental Protection Agency, compact fluorescent light bulbs (CFLs) use 75% less energy than standard incandescent bulbs and last up to 10 times longer.

Sandifer complains that the CFL light bulbs he has tried didn’t last as long as incandescent bulbs, and he notes that they contain mercury, a potential health hazard if a bulb breaks.

McGowan says the mercury issue has been “overblown.” Mercury has been used in traditional fluorescent light bulbs since about 1940, and there are no recorded cases of mercury poisoning as a result, he says.

Sandifer’s constitutional argument isn’t likely to prevail, says John Harrison of the University of Virginia School of Law. He cites several cases that established the authority of the federal government in such issues.

Barnett also reports for The Greenville (S.C) News