WASHINGTON — The House of Representatives on Friday defeated an amendment that would have prohibited the federal government from installing or buying compact fluorescent light bulbs for congressional offices.
The amendment's author, Rep. Glenn "GT" Thompson, R-Pa., had argued that the energy efficient and squiggly shaped bulbs known as CFLs are not made in the U.S. and are dangerous because they contain mercury. The House rejected his amendment to the House appropriations bill that funds congressional operations 283-130.
He said that it would be better for the government to support U.S.-made products by not buying CFL bulbs that are made overseas. If his amendment had passed, he had hoped that the move would promote U.S. light bulb manufacturers, including two Sylvania plants in his congressional district that produce energy-efficient halogen bulbs.
Sounding like a salesman, Thompson said that "our manufacturers have stepped up and they have some great products out there that are very energy efficient."
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Echoing a common concern of opponents of CFLs, Thompson said that the light created by non-CFL bulbs is easier on the eyes.
"Maybe this is a personal perspective, but I also find that the light that they create is a lot easier for me to read (in) than the lumens that are put out by CFLs," he said.
Thompson said he was disappointed that his amendment failed to pass. One hundred and four Republicans and 179 Democrats voting against the amendment, while 126 Republicans and four Democrats voted for it.
"I think a lot of people didn't understand what they were voting on because anyone who voted against my amendment was voting for jobs in China when they could have been voting for jobs in the United States," he said.
Environmentalists said his proposal was unwise, as CFLs would save the government money and are more energy efficient than traditional incandescent bulbs.
Jim Presswood, the federal energy policy director of the Natural Resources Defense Council, argued that Thompson's amendment "doesn't make any sense."
He added that any mercury risk posed by CFLs is minimal even if the bulb breaks. His group argues that CFLs are 75 percent more efficient than traditional incandescent bulbs and save the government about $50 for every light socket on Capitol Hill.
Presswood also cited a company called Technical Consumer Products Inc. that plans to begin manufacturing CFLs domestically, at a plant in Ohio.
Thompson's amendment came in the wake of a widely publicized move by some House Republicans last week to repeal federal regulations that increase efficiency standards for light bulbs. Those rules require most bulbs to be 25 to 30 percent more efficient by 2014.
Conservatives claimed that the rules — part of an energy law passed by Congress in 2007 — are an example of federal government overreach into Americans' personal consumption habits and would effectively ban the sale of incandescent bulbs because they might not meet the higher efficiency standards.
The vote was 233-193 in favor of the bill, but it was defeated because the legislation was introduced under special rules that required approval by two-thirds of the chamber.
Thompson agreed with the environmentalists and Democrats who opposed the repeal and voted against most of his party on the bill.
"Folks on Capitol Hill, in the House specifically, were purporting that there was a ban on incandescent light bulbs, and as we researched it and actually talked with the U.S. light bulb industry, we found that not to be true," he said.
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