How About a Candle Mandate?

Our old pal Jay Ambrose has a great column today on the recent decision by Congress to outlaw the sale of traditional incandescent light bulbs. As Jay points out, the obvious alternative, compact fluorescent light bulbs (CFLs), have their drawbacks.

A [big concern] is that they contain mercury, which is poisonous. I did a Google search and found a news account about a kid who took a quarter of a cup of mercury to his school several years ago, resulting in intensive care for one 17-year-old who may suffer from the exposure for the rest of his life. More than $100,000 was spent on decontamination, says the story, which also relates some of the symptoms of mercury poisoning, such as speech and vision impairment, “mood swings,” “memory loss,” “lack of coordination” and “mental disturbances.”

So, if you break one of these CFLs, run for the woods while calling your congressman on your cell phone to come open your windows for you. Be prepared to spend an interesting amount of money in cleaning things up. And know, too, that, even if you never break a CFL, you’re not allowed to just throw used ones away with your trash. Because of the mercury, you will have to dispose of them in some special way.

The positive side is that you will supposedly save money because the CFLs last much longer than incandescent bulbs and can lower your lighting bill by 20 percent while curbing those malicious gas emissions. But maybe not. Here’s the kicker, which Ferguson says is emphasized by the Competitive Enterprise Institute, a D.C. think tank. After a utility company gave half the residents of a small Iowa town CFLs while taking their old bulbs, electricity use did not go down. It went up. An old economics lesson came into play, it seems: The less expensive something is, the more people use it.

More on the light bulb ban here and here and here.