For more than 125 years, Thomas Edison's incandescent light bulb has remained the most commonly used light source in the United States, particularly in residential applications. The U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) estimates there are approximately four billion general service incandescent lamps in use across the nation. But several legislative initiatives proposed over the past year seek to either ban the sale of general service medium screw-base incandescent lamps outright by 2012 or would set efficiency standards so high that currently available incandescent technology would not be viable by 2012.

In January 2007, California State Assemblyman Lloyd Levine introduced a bill to ban the sale of incandescent bulbs by 2012. The bill, AB 722, was later changed to promote a plan for phasing in energy efficiency standards for general service lamps, before being permanently shelved in June 2007.

Though now effectively dead, Levine's bill acted as something of a catalyst, sparking conversation and debate about cutting the energy use of lighting in buildings. A competing bill, AB 1109, was introduced soon after by Levine's colleague in the assembly, Jared Huffman. Huffman's bill proposes performance standards for a variety of lighting types aimed at reducing the energy consumption of general purpose residential indoor lighting by at least 50 percent by 2018. By 2018, the bill's standards also would cut energy consumption of indoor commercial and outdoor lighting by at least 25 percent. It also outlaws the sale, after January 2010, of general purpose lights containing hazardous substances—namely, lead and mercury—at levels prohibited by the European Union.

Between February and March 2007, the conversation in the U.S. evolved from simply banning incandescent lamps to developing national efficiency standards for all general service lamps. Along with several state legislators, some members of Congress introduced their own bills that address lighting efficiency. Consumer dissatisfaction with compact fluorescent lamps (CFLs), the primary alternative to incandescents, plus the inability of CFLs to replace incandescents in all applications, led lawmakers to reconsider the approach to reining in lighting's energy usage.

Currently on the Senate's calendar for consideration is H.R. 3221, which passed in the House of Representatives in August 2007. Among other energy-related matters, this bill would prohibit the sale of 100W general service incandescents that do not emit at least 60 lumens per watt after January 2012; phase out general service lamps from 2012 to 2014 that do not meet a range of minimum efficiency levels specified; and prohibit the sale of general service lamps emitting less than 300 percent of the average lumens per watt emitted by 100W general service incandescents currently available.

The most recently introduced bill in the Senate, S. 2017, would phase out current 40-, 60-, 75-, and 100W incandescent bulbs from 2012 to 2014 to be replaced by lower wattage bulbs with equivalent light output. Introduced by New Mexico Democratic Senator Jeff Bingaman, the bill was crafted with input from a consortium of lighting industry players and advocates, including Philips Lighting, Osram Sylvania, General Electric, the Alliance to Save Energy, the American Council for an Energy-Efficient Economy (ACEEE), and the Natural Resources Defense Council. Hearings on S. 2017 were held September 12, 2007, where senior policy analyst for the International Energy Agency's Energy Efficiency and Environment Division, Dr. Paul Waide, along with the American Council for an Energy Efficient Economy's executive director, Steven Nadel, and the National Electrical Manufacturers Association's vice president of government relations, Kyle Pitsor, all testified as to their organizations' positions on the proposals of the bill.

Even if a federal bill is not enacted this year, points out ACEEE's Nadel, there is bipartisan support for such a bill in Congress and sometime in the next few years lighting efficacy standards will be nationally legislated. If Congress does not act this year, he says, there are several states prepared to act on their own lighting efficiency bills. Connecticut, Rhode Island, New Jersey, South Carolina, Illinois, Minnesota, Hawaii, and New York all are considering bills addressing lighting efficiency.