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EarthTalk®
E - The Environmental Magazine


Dear EarthTalk: What was the BULB Act pertaining to light bulb energy efficiency that just failed to pass in the House of Representatives? -- Betsy Edgerton, Columbus, OH

The Better Use of Light Bulbs (BULB) Act (H.R. 2417) was a failed attempt in July 2011 by some Republicans in the House to repeal a 2007 law mandating increased efficiency for light bulbs sold anywhere in the U.S. Sponsors of the bill cited the 2007 bulb efficiency requirements—whereby light bulbs must be 25 to 30 percent more efficient by 2014 and then as much as 60 percent more efficient by 2020—as a key example of how government overreaches its authority.

“The 2010 elections demonstrated that Americans are fed up with government intrusion,” said Representative Joe Barton, the Texas Republican who proposed the repeal. “The federal government has crept so deep into our lives that federal agencies now determine what kind of light bulbs the American people are allowed to purchase.” It’s ironic that the new standards were put in place by Republican President George W. Bush as part of his Energy Independence and Security Act of 2007, a sweeping update of the country’s energy policy. At the time, the bill, including the provisions about light bulb efficiency, enjoyed widespread bi-partisan support.

The fact that the BULB Act couldn’t muster enough votes in the Republican-controlled House to pass by the required two-thirds majority shows that even many conservative lawmakers would rather have the country save money and energy than waste it unnecessarily on inefficient lighting. The repeal effort did garner 233 votes, but the 193 opposed were more than enough to override it given House rules.

Maryland’s Steny Hoyer, Democratic Whip in the House, derided the sponsors of the repeal attempt for focusing on the wrong priorities in these dire economic times. “By bringing misguided bills like this one to the floor instead of a comprehensive jobs plan, it is clear that House Republicans are still in the dark.”

Even the National Electrical Manufacturers Association and General Electric came out against repealing the increased efficiency standards, given the strides industry has made in recent years to roll with the punches and design more efficient bulbs, fixtures and electricity distribution methods.

Analysts wonder if the 2007 efficiency requirements will sound the death knell for incandescent bulbs, which have not changed significantly since first invented by Thomas Edison in 1879. While newer, more efficient styles of bulbs—from compact fluorescents (CFLs) to halogens to light-emitting diodes (LEDs)—may be significantly more expensive than their incandescent counterparts (by as much as a factor of 50!), consumers will likely make up the difference and then some over the long term as energy savings accrue. The Department of Energy estimates that the switchover to newer, more efficient bulbs will save American households upwards of $50 per year by 2015, or some $6 billion in the aggregate.

Besides saving money, the new standards will save the amount of electricity generated by more than 30 large power plants, according to the nonprofit Alliance to Save Energy (ASE). As for global warming, the new standards promise to save carbon emissions equaling the removal of 14 million cars off the road.

CONTACTS: H.R. 2417, thomas.loc.gov/cgi-bin/query/z?c112:H.R.2417:; ASE, www.ase.org.

Dear EarthTalk: What is “nonpoint source pollution?” How much of a problem is it and how can it be controlled?
                      -- Devon Corey, New York, NY

Unlike pollution that comes from specific industrial factories, sewage treatment plants and other easily discernible ‘points’, nonpoint source pollution comes from many diffuse sources, but in the aggregate creates a formidable challenge for municipal, state and federal environmental and water control authorities.

According to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), nonpoint source pollution is “caused by rainfall or snowmelt moving over and through the ground [where it...] picks up and carries away natural and human-made pollutants, finally depositing them into lakes, rivers, wetlands, coastal waters and ground waters.” Some of the most common pollutants in nonpoint source pollution include excess fertilizers, herbicides and pesticides from agricultural lands and residential areas and oil, grease and toxic chemicals from urban runoff and energy production. Sediment from construction, mining and agricultural sites as well as salts, acids, bacteria and atmospheric deposition from myriad sources also play a role.

While its effects vary region to region, nonpoint source pollution is likely the largest threat to our water quality. The U.S. has made “tremendous advances in the past 25 years to clean up the aquatic environment by controlling pollution from industries and sewage treatment plants,” says the EPA. “Unfortunately, we did not do enough to control pollution from diffuse, or nonpoint, sources.” The EPA also calls nonpoint source pollution the U.S.’s “largest source of water quality problems” and the main reason 40 percent of our rivers, lakes, and estuaries “are not clean enough to meet basic uses such as fishing or swimming.”

Because it comes from so many sources, regulating nonpoint source pollution is almost impossible, so it really comes down to individuals taking steps to minimize the pollution generated by their actions. The EPA reports that we can all do our part by: keeping litter, pet waste, leaves and debris out of street gutters and storm drains, which usually drain right into nearby water bodies; applying lawn and garden chemicals sparingly; disposing of used oil, antifreeze, paints and other household chemicals properly, that is, at your nearest hazardous household waste drop-off, not in storm drains; cleaning up spilled brake fluid, oil, grease and antifreeze, not hosing them into the street where they will eventually reach local waterways; and controlling soil erosion on your property by planting ground cover and stabilizing erosion-prone areas.

Beyond what we can do individually, local, regional and state governments can also help reduce nonpoint source pollution by enacting and enforcing building codes and other rules that can reduce outflows. The voluntary reduction in phosphates in dishwashing detergents in the U.S. last year, for example, was a big step in reducing the nutrient load into our streams and lakes. Some municipalities have gone so far as to mandate erosion and sediment control ordinances requiring the construction of natural buffers in building and landscaping projects to filter out pollutants before they reach local watersheds. If your community doesn’t have similar rules in place, encourage your local officials to enact them.

CONTACT: EPA’s Nonpoint Source Pollution Page, www.epa.gov/owow_keep/NPS.

 

EarthTalk® is written and edited by Roddy Scheer and Doug Moss and is a registered trademark of E - The Environmental Magazine (www.emagazine.com). Send questions to: earthtalk@emagazine.com. Subscribe: www.emagazine.com/subscribe; Free Trial Issue: www.emagazine.com/trial.

www.Dishmag.com / Issue 127 - September 1728
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