Check out the light bulb and you will get a dazzling profusion of choice. But in California this plenitude no longer includes what most shoppers want: an inexpensive, plain-vanilla 100-watt incandescent bulb. Selling them is now illegal here. The rest of the country has until the end of the year to stock up before a federal ban kicks in. (I have a stash in storage.) Over the next two years, most lower-wattage incandescents will also disappear.
By the end of last year, CFLs had managed to capture only 25 percent of the general-purpose light-bulb market — a decent business, sure, but hardly the radical transformation evangelists were going for. Most Americans, for most purposes, have stuck to traditional incandescents.
So the activists offended by the public’s presumed wastefulness took a more direct approach. They joined forces with the big bulb producers, who had an interest in replacing low-margin commodities with high-margin specialty wares, and, with help from Congress and President George W. Bush, banned the bulbs people prefer.
It was an inside job. Neither ordinary consumers nor even organized interior designers had a say. Lawmakers buried the ban in the 300-plus pages of the 2007 energy bill, and very few talked about it in public. It was crony capitalism with a touch of green.
Strictly speaking, it’s true that the rules are neither mandates nor bans. They’re standards: We don’t tell you how to reduce the amount of energy your light bulb consumes. We just tell you that it can’t use more than a certain amount.