Patrick Collard/The Greenville News/AP
Richard Anderson, a 70-year-old retiree, shops for light bulbs at a Lowe’s in Greenville. State legislators may try to exempt the state from a federal mandate to phase out incandescent bulbs in favor of energy-efficient fluorescents. “For me personally, I don’t like the fact that I don’t have the choice,” Anderson said. “But ... I don’t have a problem with the fluorescent lights.”
COLUMBIA -- South Carolina lawmakers are taking a stand in favor of states' lights.
With incandescent bulbs being phased out under federal law in favor of energy-efficient compact fluorescents, legislators want to exempt South Carolina from the measure, saying Washington has no business telling the state how to light its closets and countertops.
The proposed state law, called the Incandescent Light Bulb Freedom Act, "allows South Carolina to say to the federal government we are going to exercise our rights," said Republican state Rep. Bill Sandifer, a co-sponsor.
The federal government is phasing out incandescent lights starting with 100-watt bulbs in 2012. In 2014, manufacturers will stop making 75-, 60- and 40-watt bulbs, too, under the 2007 Bush administration law. But the squiggly, energy-efficient fluorescent bulbs have drawn complaints that they are too expensive, put out a dim, sickly light, contain traces of mercury and take too long to reach full brightness.
As early as today, the South Carolina House will begin debating a bill that would allow companies to manufacture incandescent bulbs in South Carolina as long as they stamp them "Made in South Carolina" and sell them only within the state. Supporters of the bill say the federal government would have no authority to intervene because its power to regulate business extends only to commerce that crosses state lines.
South Carolina has only one small manufacturer of incandescent bulbs, but the hope is that others will set up shop here, too, if the law passes.
Arizona lawmakers tried the same thing a year ago, passing a bill that would have declared incandescent light bulbs manufactured entirely within the state exempt from federal regulation. But Republican Gov. Jan Brewer vetoed it.
The South Carolina bill is expected to win approval in the House, though its fate is far from certain in the Senate, and Republican Gov. Nikki Haley has not offered her support. Even if it became law, it would probably be challenged in court. And Randy Barnett, a constitutional law expert at Georgetown University, said the state would probably lose, in part because it wouldn't be able to keep people from buying incandescent light bulbs in South Carolina and using them in another state.
California lost a 2005 U.S. Supreme Court case with a similar underlying legal issue. That dispute involved whether medical marijuana grown in the state is subject to federal laws against pot.
Incandescents, the design basically created by Thomas Edison in the late 1800s, create light by passing electric current through a wire filament. But 90 percent of the electricity is wasted as heat instead of light. Fluorescents burn cooler.
The newer bulbs are more expensive -- about $3 for a 25-watt fluorescent versus about $1 for a 100-watt incandescent --but supporters of the new technology say the lights last so much longer that they save money in the long run. An incandescent bulb may burn for 750 to 2,500 hours, while a compact fluorescent can last up to 10,000 hours, according to the Energy Department.
During a speech at the College of Charleston last week, General Electric CEO Jeffrey Immelt criticized legislative efforts in Congress to preserve incandescent bulbs, which he described "a 110-year-old technology."
Immelt suggested the effort would do little to help the U.S. economy, saying that business is now largely dominated by "2,000 factories in China."
"So it has nothing to do with technical excellence. It has nothing to do energy- efficiency. It's a step backwards," he said.
John McDermott of The Post and Courier contributed to this report.