Dear EarthTalk: What was the BULB Act pertaining to light bulb energy efficiency that just failed to pass in the House of Representatives? -- Betsy Edgerton, Columbus, Ohio

The Better Use of Light Bulbs (BULB) Act (H.R. 2417) was a failed attempt in July 2011 by some Republicans in the House to repeal a 2007 law mandating increased efficiency for light bulbs sold anywhere in the U.S. Sponsors of the bill cited the 2007 bulb efficiency requirements -- whereby light bulbs must be 25 to 30 percent more efficient by 2014 and then as much as 60 percent more efficient by 2020 -- as a key example of how government overreaches its authority.

"The 2010 elections demonstrated that Americans are fed up with government intrusion," said Representative Joe Barton, the Texas Republican who proposed the repeal. "The federal government has crept so deep into our lives that federal agencies now determine what kind of light bulbs the American people are allowed to purchase." It's ironic that the new standards were put in place by Republican President George W. Bush as part of his Energy Independence and Security Act of 2007, a sweeping update of the country's energy policy. At the time, the bill, including the provisions about light bulb efficiency, enjoyed widespread bi-partisan support.

The fact that the BULB Act couldn't muster enough votes in the Republican-controlled House to pass by the required two-thirds majority shows that even many conservative lawmakers would rather have the country save money and energy than waste it unnecessarily on inefficient lighting. The repeal effort did garner 233 votes, but the 193 opposed were more than enough to override it given House rules.

Maryland's Steny Hoyer, Democratic Whip in the House, derided the sponsors of the repeal attempt for focusing on the wrong priorities in these dire economic times. "By bringing misguided bills like this one to the floor instead of a comprehensive jobs plan, it is clear that House Republicans are still in the dark."

Even the National Electrical Manufacturers Association and General Electric came out against repealing the increased efficiency standards, given the strides industry has made in recent years to roll with the punches and design more efficient bulbs, fixtures and electricity distribution methods.

Analysts wonder if the 2007 efficiency requirements will sound the death knell for incandescent bulbs, which have not changed significantly since first invented by Thomas Edison in 1879. While newer, more efficient styles of bulbs--from compact fluorescents (CFLs) to halogens to light-emitting diodes (LEDs) -- may be significantly more expensive than their incandescent counterparts (by as much as a factor of 50), consumers will likely make up the difference and then some over the long term as energy savings accrue. The Department of Energy estimates that the switch-over to newer, more efficient bulbs will save American households upwards of $50 per year by 2015, or some $6 billion in the aggregate.

Besides saving money, the new standards will save the amount of electricity generated by more than 30 large power plants, according to the nonprofit Alliance to Save Energy. As for global warming, the new standards promise to save carbon emissions equaling the removal of 14 million cars off the road.

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Contacts: H.R. 2417, thomas.loc.gov/cgi-bin/query/z?c112:H.R.2417:; ASE, www.ase.org.

Dear EarthTalk: What's the gist of the recent agreement between the Center for Biological Diversity and the federal government regarding adding many more plants and animals to the Endangered Species List? -- J.J. Scarboro, Tallahassee, Fla.

The agreement in question forces the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to make initial or final decisions on whether to grant some 757 imperiled plant and animal species protection under the Endangered Species Act over the next six years. In exchange, the Center for Biological Diversity, a leading advocacy group devoted to animal and plant conservation, will withdraw its legal opposition to a May 2011 agreement between USFWS and another conservation group, Wildlife Guardians. CBD argued that the agreement with Wildlife Guardians was too weak, unenforceable and missing key species in need of protection. The new agreement, if approved by the U.S. District Court as submitted in July 2011, would make many of the provisions of the old agreement obsolete.

"Scientists and conservationists have a critical role to play in identifying endangered species and developing plans and priorities to save them. The extinction crisis is too big -- too pressing -- to rely on government agencies alone," said Kieran Suckling, executive director of CBD.

CBD reports that the work plan under the new agreement will enable USFWS to move forward with systematically reviewing and addressing the needs of hundreds of species to determine if they should be added to the federal Endangered Species List by 2018. Some of the species in question that will get a closer look -- and which CBD hopes are "fast-tracked" for protection -- include the walrus, the wolverine, the Mexican gray wolf, the New England cottontail rabbit, three species of sage grouse, the scarlet Hawaiian honeycreeper (`I'iwi), the California golden trout, the Rio Grande cutthroat trout and the Miami blue butterfly, among others.

The 757 species up for listing consideration span every taxonomic group -- including 26 birds, 31 mammals, 67 fish, 13 reptiles, 42 amphibians, 197 plants and 381 invertebrates -- and occur in all 50 states and several Pacific Island territories. Alabama, Georgia and Florida are home to the majority of the species (149, 121 and 115 in each respectively). Hawaii, Nevada, California, Washington and Oregon each play host to dozens of unlisted imperiled species as well.

"The Southeast, West Coast, Hawaii and Southwest are America's extinction hot spots," Suckling said. "Most of the species lost in the past century lived there, and most of those threatened with extinction in the next decade live there as well."

CBD considers the agreement a big win and a key piece of its decade-long campaign to safeguard 1,000 of the nation's most imperiled, least protected plant and animal species. Some two-thirds of the species listed in the agreement were not previously considered to be candidates for protection for USFWS. "This corresponds with the conclusion of numerous scientists and scientific societies that the extinction crisis is vastly greater than existing federal priority systems and budgets," added Suckling.

Contacts: Center for Biological Diversity, www.biologicaldiversity.org; United States Fish and Wildlife Service, www.fws.gov; Wildlife Guardians, www.defenders.org/support_us/wildlife_guardians.

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