GE to Ohio: Turn off your light-bulb factories

With incandescents in decline, General Electric announces plant closures and layoffs. China and environmentalists can both share the blame.

Published October 5, 2007 4:08PM (EDT)

Environmentalists often tout the theory that investing in forward-looking energy-efficient technologies is a smart way for U.S. companies to create domestic jobs and carve out a competitive niche in the global economy of the future. But it doesn't necessarily have to work out that way. On Thursday, General Electric, citing the fact that sales of incandescent bulbs are declining by about 10 percent a year, announced that it was closing seven lighting manufacturing facilities in North and South America.

Six of those plants are in Ohio. The vast majority of the compact fluorescent light bulbs that are replacing incandescents are manufactured in China. A union-led campaign launched in March argues that GE should invest in new lighting technologies in the United States, but GE claims that to manufacture CFLs in the U.S. would require adding 50 cents to the price of each bulb.

(At, a site created by the Communications Workers of America, the union claims that the European Commission banned Chinese-manufactured CFLs, but that assertion is not correct. There is a steep tariff on Chinese CFLs in the EU, but even so, two-thirds of the CFLs sold in Europe are made in China.)

A story in the Youngstown, Ohio, Vindicator covering the closing of two local plants serves as a minor elegy for every factory forced to close by the pressures of globalization.

GE said Thursday the Austintown Products Plant and Niles Glass Plant are to be shut down Nov. 1, 2008, with production shipped to foreign plants or outside suppliers....

The Austintown plant, which has 73 workers, is one of three plants that make filaments for incandescent bulbs. [A spokesman for GE] said production volumes for these bulbs are down, so the company now can fill all of its orders at the other plants, which are in Mexico and Hungary....

So, yet another paradox that may not bear too much pondering, if one wants to make it through the day. Replacing your incandescents with CFLs will cut your electricity bill, there's little doubt about that, but it will also contribute to job loss in Ohio, and the likely increase of industrial pollution in China.

By Andrew Leonard

Andrew Leonard is a staff writer at Salon. On Twitter, @koxinga21.

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