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PD Editorial: Trump brings back incandescent light bulbs, but who would want to buy them?

When historians chronicle the long list of President Donald Trump’s problematic policies, his decision last week to bring back incandescent light bulbs surely will rank among the most baffling.

President George W. Bush signed the Energy Independence and Security Act of 2007 that transitioned America away from incandescent light bulbs. The law didn’t explicitly ban them, but it set requirements that all light bulbs for sale be more efficient within a few years. The incandescent ones couldn’t meet the new standard, so compact fluorescent lights (CFLs) and LEDs took over store shelves.

Manufacturers faced some upfront costs as they switched production, but they soon started cranking out energy-efficient light bulb options.

The upside was tremendous. The new light bulbs, LEDs in particular, generated far more lumens (light) per watt. In layperson’s terms, they produce the same amount of light using less electricity as an incandescent light. For example, a 60-watt incandescent bulb might put out 800 lumens. An LED bulb needs less than one-sixth as much energy to shine just as brightly.

The big reason for the difference is heat. Incandescent bulbs run hot; LEDs run cool.

LED and CFL bulbs cost more upfront, though even those prices have come down as the bulbs have become more ubiquitous. Still, there’s no denying that initial price tag. Over time, however, they are a bargain. The electricity for that 60-watt incandescent bulb run for two hours per day costs about $4.80 per year. The LED equivalent costs only $1. Replace just a few bulbs in a house, and that starts to save real money annually.

The savings get even better over the long term. LED bulbs operate for up to 25 times as long as the incandescent ones before burning out. That means less frequent replacement costs and hassle.

The saved energy is good for America, too. Burning less electricity results in less greenhouse gas emissions and more power potentially available for other uses.

So what’s with Trump wanting to bring back incandescent bulbs?

With most things he does, there’s at least some sort of twisted reasoning behind it. You just have to buy into the right world view and set of premises to understand how he got there. Distrust illegal immigrants from south of the border and think they are stealing jobs from hard-working Americans when they aren’t committing crimes? Then it’s not a major leap to supporting a wall between the U.S. and Mexico. Think someone needed to stand up to China? Then the trade war kind of makes sense.

But there’s just no reasoning behind rolling back the light bulb standards. Maybe Trump just hates anything that smacks of “green.” Surely he was joking when he said on Monday, “I’m not a vain person. … But I look better under an incandescent light than these crazy lights that are beaming down.”

Whatever the reason, all is not lost. Over the past few years, Americans have gotten used to energy-efficient light bulbs. With any luck, they will continue making the smart economic choice to save money with LEDs. The market has a chance to decide.

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