Washington’s dim bulbs

A great many unkind things have been said about our current Congress — many of them merited.

But nothing this august body has done this session has more exemplified its meddling ineptitude than its decision to phase out incandescent light bulbs, of all things, beginning in 2012.

As explained by Reuters in a recent report, the measure signed by President Bush on Dec. 19 requires lighting to use “up to 30 percent less energy,” effectively outlawing the brilliant device engineered 125 years ago by Thomas Edison.

Proponents of the measure argue that replacing all 4 billion Edison bulbs in the United States with energy-efficient alternatives will cut carbon dioxide emissions from power plants by 100 million tons and dramatically reduce household utility bills — by more than $18 billion a year.

But how will household budgets fare under the greater cost of compact fluorescent lights — surpassing $5 per bulb vs. about 75 cents for their incandescent counterparts? And let’s not look too closely at the additional pollution that will enter the environment should the mercury inside CFLs escape. Moreover, will Americans — especially aging baby boomers — be satisfied with the poorer, harsher light shed by CFLs? Or will they merely use more CFLs to supply the same amount of light cast by a single incandescent bulb?

Whatever the answer to these questions, one thing is clear: When light bulbs are outlawed, only outlaws will have light bulbs.