Americans will have more freedom of choice now that the Trump administration’s Department of Energy has set about undoing Obama-era regulations targeting incandescent light bulbs in favor of light-emitting diode bulbs. Trump critics are trying to raise the specter of consumer and planetary harm from the move. Some have even made claims that giving the older-style bulbs a reprieve would cost consumers up to $14 billion annually and make a significant contribution to climate change.
It’s true that LED bulbs have certain advantages—they are more energy efficient and longer lasting than incandescents. But lost amid the criticism is the fact that consumers benefit from retaining both options. How?
Rarely used lights: Most households have lighting fixtures that are off nearly all of the time—such as the ones in an attic or storage closet. In these cases, consumers would never earn back the higher purchase price of an LED bulb in the form of energy savings, so the best choice is a cheap incandescent bulb.
Dimmable lights: LEDs are very good and getting better, but they are not yet on par with incandescents when it comes to dimming. Those consumers who like dimmers would benefit from continued access to incandescent bulbs.
Light quality: Some consumers prefer the light quality of incandescent bulbs over the alternatives, finding it more natural and less harsh. This includes the president, who said, “I look better under an incandescent light.”
Lower prices overall: Having the lower-cost incandescent bulbs on the market helps keep LED prices at least somewhat competitive. LED bulbs will still carry a premium, but it will likely be a smaller one if they have to compete with incandescents.
Consumer freedom: Lost in the debate over which bulb is best is the more fundamental question of who gets to decide—Washington bureaucrats or consumers themselves. And it doesn’t stop with light bulbs. Presidential candidates are busy badmouthing meat consumption, air travel, plastic straws, gasoline-powered cars and other things once thought beyond the reach of Washington.
Most Americans want to make decisions for themselves, free from the federal government’s interference. It’s the Washington elites who haven’t seen the light.