The Green Living Guy

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Today’s shelves are stocked with a stunning spectrum of new light bulbs. But old incandescent bulbs aren’t efficient enough, according to federal requirements. New types of bulbs have to outshine their diverse competition.

Brian Clark Howard, author of “Green Lighting” tells host Jeff Young, they also have to overcome complaints that they can’t compare to traditional lighting.

Segment of the NPR radio interview

YOUNG: It’s Living on Earth, I’m Jeff Young. Republican leaders in the House of Representatives pushed their latest bright idea on energy – an attempt to block efficiency standards for light bulbs. The energy act signed by President George Bush in 2007 required lighting that uses at least 27 percent less electricity. In recent House floor debate Texas Republicans Mike Burgess and Joe Barton argued that the rule forces consumers to use inferior products.

BARTON: Why in the world does the federal government have to tell people what kind of lights they use in their home?

BURGESS: The American people should be able to choose what type of lightbulb they use in their home. They should not be constrained to all of the romance of a Soviet stairwell when they go home in the evening.

YOUNG: The so-called ‘bulb ban’ has become a rallying cry for some conservatives. Environmental writer and blogger Brian Clark Howard is here now to, well, shed some light on the subject. He’s co-author of the book “Green Lighting.” Hi, Brian!

HOWARD: Hi! Thanks for having me!

YOUNG: Let’s start here with my favorite line from the House floor debate – that compact fluorescent bulbs cast a light that quote: “has all the romance of a Soviet stairwell.” This is a common complaint that we hear about CFLs – that the light is kind of harsh.

HOWARD: Well, I think that there are some discount CFLs that have been flooding the market in recent years and a lot of them are of a lower quality. It’s true that a lot of them have poor, what is called, color-rendering index – CRI. What I always recommend that consumers do is only buy CFLs that are Energy Star certified, because this covers a broad range of specifications of qualities of the bulb – it goes beyond energy efficiency. An Energy Star labeled bulb must turn on in a second, it also has a limit on the amount of mercury, and it must produce a minimum quality light.

YOUNG: Now, what about the mercury issue, let’s address that. A lot of people, including some members of Congress, we heard on the floor, are worried about the mercury that’s in compact fluorescents.

HOWARD: In my experience, the fear over mercury in CFLs is very overblown. The average amount of mercury in a CFL is four milligrams. It’s been dropping steadily. There’s now a number of CFLs that have one milligram of mercury or less. The average old school mercury thermometer has 500 milligrams. And an old thermostat on the wall has 3,000 or more milligrams of mercury.

YOUNG: Now tell me about other stuff that’s just coming on the market in a big way. Particularly I’m interested in LED – light emitting diodes.

HOWARD: Well LEDs are really exciting technology. They’ve actually been around for a long time. For decades they’ve been used for indicator lights in electronics. A lot of pundits think that they are really the future of lighting, and they last for an incredibly long time. In the laboratory, LEDs have lasted literally hundreds of thousands of hours.

For the rest of the interview

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