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Kiowa County Signal - Kiowa County, KS
  • The lights go out on 200 jobs and an era

  • The federal government must think that the less-than-2-percent savings on electric energy costs the country might see is worth poisoning U.S. landfills and eliminating American jobs.


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  • Thomas Edison would be disappointed to know that the last major plant manufacturing the incandescent light bulb in the U.S. is closing this month.  His 1870's invention has taken on a new name and shape.
     
    The 200 workers at the plant in Winchester, Virginia, are soon to be unemployed because government regulations passed by Congress in 2007 cleared the way for a more energy-efficient light bulb — the florescent light.
     
    Any hope for these Americans to find work at another light bulb manufacturing plant is dim.  Manufacturing of florescent lights takes place in China, where they are produced more efficiently and cost-effectively.
     
    "This is just another example of the federal government killing jobs to move forward with its environmental agenda," says Bill Wilson, president of Americans for Limited Government (ALG).
     
    Starting with 100-watt bulbs in 2012, the government will require light-bulb purchasers to buy florescent lights.  The regulations then trickle down to affect purchasers of 40-watt bulbs by 2014.
     
    These florescent bulbs have a longer lifespan than the incandescent, but they are more expensive.
     
    Many households have already made the switch to florescent bulbs due to the convincing evidence that they are more energy efficient.  How energy efficient are the bulbs?  The government's Energy Star website states, "If every American home replaced just one light with a light that's earned the ENERGY STAR, we would save enough energy to light 3 million homes for a year, save about $600 million in annual energy costs, and prevent 9 billion pounds of greenhouse gas emissions per year, equivalent to those from about 800,000 cars."
     
    That sounds like a lot of savings.  But compared to the nation's average energy usage and greenhouse gas emissions, what does that saving look like?
     
    In a National Journal article, studies found this savings, "… would be the equivalent of removing three cars out of every 1,000 and reducing energy spending by about five-ten-thousandths. Similarly, advocates who tout the incandescent phase out as reducing America's energy bills by up to $18 billion annually do not mention that the reduction amounts to less than 2 percent."
     
    The government is continuing its push towards energy efficiency by regulating the light bulbs in peoples' homes.  Though some might notice that florescent lights take a few more seconds to reach their full lighting capability, or that they don't provide enough light or cost too much, these seemingly small inconveniences will likely fade over time.
     
    It seems as if the government has found a fairly solid, albeit small, solution to a more energy efficient America.
     
    But every plan has its flaws.  Sam Kazman of the Competitive Enterprise Institute (CEI) sites a story about a small town in Iowa where the government's hope of energy efficiency backfired.  The Great Light Bulb Exchange took place in the 1980s in Traer, Iowa, where about half the town traded in their incandescent lights for free florescent lights.  The result: electricity consumption rose by about 8 percent.  Since the cost of electricity went down due to a more energy efficient bulb, demand increased as people used their light bulbs more frequently.
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    As the Great Light Bulb Exchange approaches its national deadline, it is important to consider the unknowns.  It is unforeseen what electric energy costs will be in the future and whether Americans will keep their lights on into the wee hours of the night, will what happened in this town in Iowa happen on a much larger scale?
     
    Despite these questions, florescent lights have another issue.
     
    Remember the old thermometers your mother used to take your temperature when you were sick? They were labeled dangerous and refurbished because they contained the toxic chemical mercury.  Guess what florescent bulbs contain? That's right, mercury.
     
    Maybe the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) is okay with mercury in light bulbs because you aren't sticking them under your tongue, but light bulbs are used and disposed of far more frequently than a thermometer.
     
    Without thinking, most American families unscrew their light bulbs when they burn out, throw them in the trash and screw in a new one.
     
    In a two-page instructional guide, the EPA, in great details, takes you through the steps of how to dispose of florescent light bulbs or what to do if one breaks.  Once you have a canning jar ready to go, you can begin reading the instructions.
     
    To summarize the EPA guide, if a Compact Fluorescent Light (CFL) breaks, it is important to air out the room where it broke.  If it fell and broke on a hard surface, you can carefully scoop up the broken pieces and place them in your canning jar or a zip-tight plastic bag.  You can also use a damp cloth or sticky tape to pick up the remaining pieces and powder (mercury) that has escaped the bulb.  The cloth and/or tape also need to be placed in the jar or bag with the broken glass.  Do not, however, sweep or vacuum the area.
     
    If the bulb breaks over a rugged or carpeted area, then you can vacuum the area once you have all the visible pieces of glass and powder picked up and sealed in either a jar or plastic bag.  But, according to the guide, you then need to wipe clean your vacuum's canister or remove the vacuum bag and place it inside another plastic bag.  If you do have to vacuum, there are more instructions on how to set your vacuum on the proper settings as well.
     
    If a CFL does break, you will want to be sure it does so under one of these first two scenarios.  If the bulb breaks on your clothing or bedding, the EPA recommends throwing them out.  Washing them will only wreak havoc on your washing machine or contaminate sewage.  In this case, not only did you spend $5 on a light bulb, but you also eat the cost of your clothing or bedding.
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    Sounds simple and safe enough, right?
     
    Remember, before throwing your canning jar or plastic bag directly into the trash when you are finished with the clean up or after the light bulb has burned out, you need to check with your local or state government to find out the proper protocol for throwing it away, the EPA guide reminds readers.  Some governments allow you to throw them in the trash, while others want them recycled.
     
    Assuming that the 100-year-old habit of just simply tossing a burned-out bulb into the trash continues, America's landfills will be filled with broken glass and mercury.  That doesn't seem to be a concern for now though.  The EPA is too busy worrying about possible sewage contamination by using a washing machine to clean up a bulb's mess.
     
    The federal government must think that the less-than-2-percent savings on electric energy costs the country might see is worth poisoning U.S. landfills and eliminating American jobs.
     
    It is doubtful the 200 people about to be unemployed feel the same way.
     
    If only Thomas Edison could have been more progressive and energy conscious in his creating the light bulb, then those 200 workers might still have a job.
     
    Rebekah Rast is a contributing editor to Americans for Limited Government (ALG) News Bureau.

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