An LED bulb

Starting January 1, U.S. consumers won't be able to purchase light bulbs that don't meet strict energy conservation standards. Under the rule, most of the cheap, incandescent bulbs on the market today won't be available.

At least, that's what the law says.

But in a lengthy appropriation bill just approved by Congress, there is a provision that eliminates the funding to implement the new rule. As a result, the rule will not go into effect January 1, 2012, as mandated in the 2007 legislation.

As the deadline approached this year, the light bulb became a partisan issue. Democrats generally supported the new rule as a sensible step to reduce the nation's energy consumption. Republicans opposed it, saying the government shouldn't dictate what kind of light bulbs consumers have to buy.

The incandescent bulb hasn't changed much since Edison invented it. It's considered highly inefficient because it produces both heat and light. However, it has the advantage of being very cheap.

CFL and LED bulbs

Its replacements are the Compact Florescent Light (CFL)  and LED bulbs, both much more expensive but advertised as lasting much longer than traditional incandescent bulbs and using much less electricity to produce the same amount of light.

Politics aside, many consumers who've tried out the new bulbs aren't impressed.

"I have replaced numerous GE Energy Smart 13 watt CFL bulbs in the past year," Candace, of Cocoa Beach, Fla., told "All of them say 'lasts 8 years' on the package. I'm lucky if one lasts 8 months! These things are not cheap, and in my humble opinion are a total rip off! As soon as I replace one, another one burns out, and at almost $10 for a package of two bulbs."

For consumers, the reprieve may only be temporary. The 2007 is still on the books and will presumably be implemented at some point.

The U.S. is actually behind much of the rest of the world on the light bulb transition. The European Union and several Latin American countries have already banned them.  

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