Let their be light! Incandescent light bulbs still lawful within the 50 states. Federal ban applies to territories only.

incandescent light bulbs Making and trading [selling] incandescent light bulbs may be illegal within United States but it’s still lawful within the 50 states of the union.

This is because United States does not mean the 50 states. United States means federal territories and federal land. Simplest proof is in the 14th Amendment, Section 3, which differentiates between the two: “under the United States, or under any state.”

The federal ban requires lightbulbs generate 45 lumens per watt, whereas incandescent lightbulbs can generate only 10 lumens per watt. Therefore, they require more watts to brighten a room.

“…the backstop requirement as specified in 42 U.S.C. 6295(i)(6)(A)(v) directs DOE to prohibit the sale of GSLs that do not meet a minimum efficacy standard of 45 lm/W.” (federal register)

From The Verge:

“When you think of a incandescent light bulb, you probably imagine this: a simple droplet of water crafted from opaque white glass, with a giant screw on the bottom, [each of] which consumes 40, 60, 75, 100, maybe 150 watts of power to light up a chunk of your home.

As of August 2023, those “normal” lightbulbs are really, truly banned from sale in the United States. You can still install and use those bulbs, but you won’t find them on shelves legally. You’ll find far more efficient LED or fluorescent bulbs instead.” (The Verge)

But there’s no cause for alarm because in federal rules, the definitions reveal the truth. The definitions define words differently than common use, and are a key part of their playbook.

In this case, there is a definition for the term ‘state’. They do this because “State’ means something different than the conversational meaning. From 10 CFR 430.2, we learn:

State means a State, the District of Columbia, Puerto Rico, or any territory or possession of the United States.”

My points:

  1. Why define a basic word like ‘state’? Because it doesn’t mean any of the 50 states.
  2. Why not explicitly say the ban applies to “the 50 states, the District of Columbia, Puerto Rico, etc.’? Because it does not apply to the 50 states.
  3. Why would anyone define state to mean the territories? Aren’t state dramatically different than territories? Huge red flag 🚩to say that ‘state’ can mean a territory. The only conclusion is the state they are referring to has the same status of a territory, not one of the 50 states.
  4. With the first odd part, “State means a State…” because the 2nd State is a special entity within the federal government. It’s a federal state. Another type of federal area, just like all the rest of the federal areas listed, such as District of Columbia, etc.

This ban only applies to federal land, such as the territories, and that is why they are telling us this. They must say this because they can’t violate the constitution, which enumerates the powers of the federal govt within or over the states, and writing laws about lightbulbs ain’t one of them, last I checked.

The first part of the above definition seems odd or circular at first: “State means a State.” But we must assume it’s not circular, and therefore ‘State’ (with a capital S) is not what we would think is the everyday meaning of the word. ‘State’, with a capital S, is a either ‘federal state’ as noted in 26 USC 7701 (9) [see below], or it’s federal land within each of the 50 union states or maybe it means some territories that they have historically been referred to as federal states. Who knows? But I do know State, with a capital S, does not mean any of the 50 union states.

Important: when a word is defined, it becomes a term, and we must discard the everyday meaning. If a definition within their code says a table is something with two wings and can fly, then that is what a table means in their code. It’s not a surface with four legs.

Also in the definitions, we find the term (not word) ‘import‘ .

Import means to import into the customs territory of the United States.

Again, why would they define such a basic word as ‘import’? Because in this case, the import ban only applies to federal territory.

Now let’s look at the meaning of ‘customs territory’; another odd phrase. 19 CFR 101.1 Definitions tells us:

Customs territory of the United States. “Customs territory of the United States” includes only the States, the District of Columbia, and Puerto Rico.

Again we see that capital-S States and we see all federal areas such as DC and PR. From top to bottom, this ban only applies to federal areas. And this is not really surprising because the federal government sits below, not above, the states, so without special permission, the federal government cannot ban lightbulbs — or anything else — within the states.

As for ‘customs territories’, even many territories of the United States are not part of “Customs territory of the United States.” 19 CFR 7.2 says:

Insular possessions of the United States other than Puerto Rico are also American territory but, because those insular possessions are outside the customs territory of the United States, goods imported therefrom are subject to the rates of duty set forth in column 1 of the Harmonized Tariff Schedule of the United States (HTSUS) except as otherwise provided in § 7.3 or in part 148 of this chapter. The principal such insular possessions are the U.S. Virgin Islands, Guam, American Samoa, Wake Island, Midway Islands, and Johnston Atoll.

So even within some territories, people can still benefit from the warm, soft glow of an incandescent light bulb pumping out less than 45 watts per lumen.

Note how the United States Code can be very specific by naming each and every territory when describing the insular possessions. The above code mentions American Samoa, Wake Island, and others. But they don’t do that when naming states that fall under this ban, because they only mean federal territory (now called states!). They don’t mean union states. They don’t say Alabama, Arkansas, etc.

Also, one must know that ‘United States’ is short for either:

  1. ‘United States, in congress assembled’, meaning the federal government
  2. The corporation doing business as United States.
  3. The entity that represents the 50 nation-states in international affairs.

‘United States’ does not mean The United States of America. We chant USA! at the Olympics, not US.

Graphic showing three areas side by side. (1) illustration of the 50 states, with United States of America typed above (2) illustration of DC, Puerto Rico, Guam, and gov't bidg and forts, with United States typed above (3) illustration of a file folder with UNITED STATES in all caps above

In relation to this ban on light bulbs, the word “commerce” also references the capital-S “State”. 42 USC 6291 talks about commerce between States, and we know that state means the federal land within each union state.

(16) The terms ‘‘to distribute in commerce’’ and ‘‘distribution in commerce’’ mean to sell in commerce, to import, to introduce or deliver for introduction into commerce, or to hold for sale or distribution after introduction into commerce.

(17) The term ‘‘commerce’’ means trade, traffic, commerce, or transportation—

(A) between a place in a State and any place outside thereof, or

Their enforcement specifically applies to “distribute in commerce,” an odd phrase:

Generally, the Department seeks the maximum civil penalty against manufacturers and private labelers that knowingly distribute in commerce products or equipment that violate the federal energy or water conservation standards.

We can trade all we want, but don’t try to ‘distribute in commerce‘ and ask them to prove their claim! They made the claim; let them prove it. It’s like how they claim we’re driving (for hire), but we’re just traveling.

The definitions also clearly define person as various business entities, but not a man or private trading organization. Don’t get fooled by the ambiguous ‘individual’ because that means sole-proprietor (see here and here). As shown below, person can even mean the government! It’s a free for all!

Person includes any individual, corporation, company, association, firm, partnership, society, trust, joint venture or joint stock company, the government, and any agency of the United States or any State or political subdivision thereof.

It’s important to remember that the words legal and illegal have a specific scope to what is allowed by statutes. Whereas, common law is a superior law and something might be illegal in their venue, but still lawful.

Big green circle with label of lawful/unlawful. With three smaller circles, one saying Sharia law, NBA game rules, and legal/illegal.

In conclusion, incandescent light bulbs are:

  • still lawful (not legal)
  • within the 50 united states (not within United States and not in ‘customs territory’)
  • through trade (not commerce)

External Links


In Title 26, about income taxes, the term State is clearly defined as just District of Columbia. Don’t be fooled by the word ‘include’ since it’s restrictive.

The term “State” shall be construed to include the District of Columbia, where such construction is necessary to carry out provisions of this title.  26 USC 7701 (9)

Short history of the above term is that it used to mention the territories of Alaska and Hawaii before they became union states. That’s worth emphasizing. The territories of Alaska and Hawaii were deleted from the federal definition of State when the territories became union states. Clearly, there are federal states and union states. All to keep everyone dim.

The language of 26 USC 7701 (9) is almost comical: “shall be construed” and “where such construction is necessary”. They created language and terms ‘to carry out provisions of this title.’ We are all just along for the ride, until now.

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A word with an initial cap (first letter capitalized) has a special meaning. In everyday writing, when referring to the 50 united states, the word states does not need to be capitalized because it’s just a noun referring to the states. If I’m talking about Microsoft, I wouldn’t capitalize the C in the word company. If I’m talking about Arizona, I would say it’s a state (lower-case s), not a State (upper-case S). This capital-S State has a special meaning within the federal code.

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The scope of the enforcement reiterates the rules and points to the regulation stating that the minimum Minimum Initial Lamp Efficacy is 45.0.

Scope: This policy applies to compliance requirements with all lamps covered by the GSL definitions rule and the GSL backstop rule.

Nonetheless, all lamps must, at minimum, comply with conservation regulations (under 10 C.F.R. § 430.32) and certification requirements in effect before the GSL definition and backstop rules. For lamps that fall below these conservation standards, DOE may exercise its discretion to take enforcement action without considering the enforcement flexibilities below.

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