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A loophole could dim impact in proposed energy-saving bill

New legislation is slated to phase out inefficient bulbs, but efficiency groups are concerned a loophole could diminish impact.

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It's not as portentous as raising fuel-efficiency standards or doling out solar-energy subsidies. Nevertheless, Congress is poised to pass a major energy-saving measure as soon as this month, if it can solve a rather glaring problem: How do you describe an energy-efficient light bulb?

That question is crucial because the new legislation would phase out energy-intensive incandescent bulbs on the basis of their size and shape rather than on the amount of power they draw. As a result, unscrupulous manufacturers could easily skirt the phase-out by changing slightly the shape of their incandescent offerings, efficiency advocates say, dramatically reducing the measure's benefits.

"If this loophole isn't fixed, the nation's savings [for this one provision] will be cut by half or more," says Andrew deLaski, director of the Appliance Standards Awareness Project, an efficiency effort sponsored by the American Council for an Energy-Efficient Economy (ACEEE) and the Natural Resources Defense Council.

The new measure aims to replace America's4 billion most inefficient incandescent bulbs with far more efficient light. That move alone could save enough energy to avoid building 40 large coal-fired power plants in the United States, which would make it the third-largest power-saving feature of the energy bill now moving through Congress, according to the ACEEE.

But if the loophole remains, the impact would be smaller.

"It's just too easy to get around the law," Mr. deLaski says. "Some company could make and sell a bulb that costs a fraction of the new efficient bulbs and undermine the whole thing."

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