Q: Is it a ban or not?
A: Yes and no. It is not a ban per se (such as in EU and other countries) but a raising of the efficacy standards to a level which normal incandescent lamps cannot reach. The end result is still the same, as far as the original Edison bulb is concerned.
Q: What lamps are affected?
A: In this first stage of the gradual ‘phase-out’, starting January 1st, 2012: incandescent bulbs of 100 watts or more.
New edit: After debating whether 75 watts are also prohibited or not – which they officially are not until next year – Freedom Light Bulb discovered that the regulation is even more bizarre than we first thought:
If you want incandescent you can still buy 72 watt tungsten halogen Energy Savers and get as much light as from a 100 watt lamp (see my Halogen Energy Savers review). If you can find them. Amazon sells them, Home Depot only have reflector lamps, Lowe’s have more flodlight reflector models, but they can be hard to find in regular stores (ask for them).
Q: So now 75 and 100 watt bulbs can’t be produced or imported?
A: Yes and no. In the words of Kevan Shaw: “The ban is still effectively in force in law however it cannot be enforced.”
Read the longer explanation of this confusing issue here: The American Ban Collapses
Follow the progress state by state here: Progress Track of US Federal and State Ban Repeal Bills
The inability of DOE to enforce the standards would allow those who do not respect the rule of law to sell inefficient light bulbs in the U.S. without fear of enforcement, creating a competitive disadvantage for compliant manufacturers.
As standard incandescent lamps are no longer as profitable to make or sell, the risk of that happening is probably negligible. If you can find a higher watt bulb anywhere you’re still free to buy it, but people have been hoarding.
Leading manufacturers couldn’t wait to get rid of the bulb, so they started closing their North American bulb factories in 2009 and the last major U.S. bulb plant was closed in September 2010.
And just a few days ago IKEA proudly announced that they will not sell any incandescent lamps (spinning more-$$$-for-IKEA-from-new-$14-LEDs to sound like “IKEA-saving-the-planet”). More retailers may follow, regardless of how the dispute ends.
And California started the phase-out a year early.
So choices and availability for top quality incandescent light are shrinking, while choices for lower quality but somewhat more energy efficient CFL and LED lights have increased to a confusing profusion which can make finding the right lamp rather difficult.
Q: So, whose fault is this anyway? Who came up with the idea? Those pesky treehugging-commie Democrats, or the reactionary out-of-my-cold-dead-hands Republicans?
A: Well, both. The original light bulb legislation was written by Fred Upton (R-MI) and Jane Harmon (D-CA) says CNS News.
“In 2007, Harman and Upton introduced bipartisan, bicameral legislation–which became law as part of the Energy Independence and Security Act–that bans the famously inefficient 100-watt incandescent light bulb by 2012, phases out remaining inefficient light bulbs by 2014, and requires that light bulbs be at least three times as efficient as today’s 100-watt incandescent bulb by 2020,” explained a 2009 press release put out by the two House members.
The bill was passed under the Republican Bush administration and signed by president G.W. Bush in 2007. President Obama and the Democratic party have embraced it. However, Upton later changed his mind, as did many other Republicans (and many didn’t think it was a good idea in the first place). And now this issue has been turned into a symbolic item for both parties to fight each other over.
Hope that cleared it up. 😉
Edit: Good article about the ban: Five Myths About the Federal Incandescent Light Bulb Ban