States Shut Out Light Pollution

5/23/2016

What is Light Pollution?

For much of Earth’s history, our remarkable universe of stars has been visible in the darkness of the night sky. But increasing urbanization, combined with the excessive and inefficient use of light, has created a kind of pollution that obscures the stars from view and leads to numerous other disturbances.

Known collectively as “light pollution,” there are three main components: sky glow, light trespass and glare.

  • Sky Glow = brightening of the night sky over inhabited areas.
  • Light Trespass = light that shines where it is not needed or wanted.
  • Glare = excessive brightness that causes visual discomfort.

 

Light Pollution

Effects of Light Pollution

Astronomers recognized light pollution as a problem in the 1970s. Even with the most powerful instruments, they could no longer view stars and other celestial objects with the same clarity. While at least 2,500 stars should be visible under normal nighttime conditions, only a few hundred can be seen in a typical American suburb. In most large cities, residents would be lucky to glimpse a few dozen. But the adverse effects of light pollution extend well beyond our view of the night sky. Aside from the energy wasted, excess lighting can have serious consequences for human health and the environment. It can even affect the ability of our military to train effectively.

Energy Consumption

Billions of dollars are spent in the U.S. each year to light our streets, shopping areas, office complexes and sites used for energy development. Unfortunately, since many light fixtures are either poorly designed or emit light aimed in the wrong direction, much of what we spend on outdoor lighting is wasted

Humans and Wildlife

For humans, exposure to bright light at night can interfere with natural circadian rhythms (i.e. 24-hour day/night cycle) by suppressing production of melatonin, the chemical that regulates sleep patterns. Research has linked this disruption to sleep disorders, depression, obesity, breast cancer and more.

Wildlife is also harmed by light pollution. The decline of lightning bugs, the death of birds during migration, and the fatal disorientation of newly hatched sea turtles are only a few examples.

Military

Light pollution can also limit the military’s ability to conduct nighttime training at bases around the country. In fact, with the use of night-vision equipment, a significant portion of military training is now conducted at night. These exercises simulate combat situations, helping troops develop their situational awareness and ultimately minimize casualties. The impact of light pollution on military training will undoubtedly increase as residential and commercial development in nearby communities continues to grow.

State Legislation

At least 18 states, the District of Columbia and Puerto Rico have laws in place to reduce light pollution. The majority of states that have enacted so-called “dark skies” legislation have done so to promote energy conservation, public safety, aesthetic interests and astronomical research capabilities. Municipalities in a number of states have also been active on this issue, adopting light pollution regulations as part of their zoning codes.

US map showing states with light pollution laws.

Most state laws are limited to outdoor lighting fixtures installed on the grounds of a state building or facility or on a public roadway. The most common dark skies legislation requires the installation of shielded light fixtures which emit light only downward. Replacement of unshielded with fully shielded lighting units often allows for use of a lower wattage bulb, resulting in energy savings. Other laws require the use of low-glare or low-wattage lighting, regulate the amount of time that certain lighting can be used, and the incorporation of Illuminating Engineering Society (IES) guidelines into state regulations.

light postKnown as a worldwide hub for astronomy, Arizona’s light pollution law dates back to 1986 (Ariz. Rev. Stat. Ann. §§49-1101 et seq.). The law requires all outdoor light fixtures to be fully or partially shielded, with the exception of emergency, construction and navigational airport lighting. Fixtures not in compliance are allowed provided they are extinguished between the hours of midnight and sunrise by automatic device. Some laws are more specific than others. For example, in Colorado, installation of new outdoor lighting fixtures requires consideration of costs, energy conservation, glare reduction, minimizing light pollution and the preservation of the natural night environment (Colo. Rev. Stat. §§24-82-901 et seq.). A “full-cutoff fixture” must be used when output is greater than a certain amount of lumens.

Other states have sought to encourage these types of measures at the local level. New Hampshire, for example, has made it a priority to preserve dark skies as a feature of rural character. To that end, state law encourages municipalities to adopt ordinances and regulations to conserve energy and minimize light pollution (N.H. Rev. Stat. Ann. §9-E:3). The effect of beachfront lighting on avian and marine life is also a concern in many coastal states. In Florida, for example, a statewide model lighting ordinance (Fla. Stat. §161.163; Fla. Admin. Code §§62B.55.001 et seq.) guides local governments in developing policies to protect hatching sea turtles.

Texas is the only state with a law in place specifically aimed at reducing light pollution around military installations. In 2007, the Texas Legislature amended an existing law regarding the regulation of outdoor lighting to authorize state counties, at the request of the military, to adopt measures governing the use of outdoor lighting within five miles of a military installation (Tex. Local Government Code Ann. §240.032). The provision only applies to counties with at least five military bases and a population of more than 1,000,000 people or adjacent counties located within five miles of a base. County regulations must be designed to protect against interferences with military training activities. Counties may accomplish this goal in a number of ways: (1) require that a permit be obtained before installing certain types of lighting; (2) prohibit the use of particular lighting fixtures; (3) establish requirements for the shielding of outdoor lighting; or (4) regulate the times during which certain types of lighting may be used.

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State Laws to Reduce Light Pollution

State

Citation

Summary

Arizona

Ariz. Rev. Stat. Ann. §§49-1101 et seq.

Requires all outdoor light fixtures to be fully or partially shielded except incandescent fixtures of 150 watts or less and other sources of 70 watts or less. Emergency and construction lighting is exempt. Fixtures not in compliance are allowed provided they are extinguished between the hours of midnight and sunrise by automatic device.

Arkansas

Ark. Stat. Ann. §§8-14-101 et seq.

Requires outdoor lighting fixtures installed using public funds to be shielded, unless a municipality, county or public utility determines that the cost of acquiring shielded fixtures will be prohibitive. Requires each electric public utility to offer a shielded lighting service option to customers. Exceptions may apply.

Colorado

Colo. Rev. Stat. §§24-82-901 et seq.

Requires new outdoor lighting fixtures installed by or on behalf of the state using state funds to meet the following requirements: (1) consideration is given to costs, energy conservation, glare reduction, minimizing light pollution and the preservation of the natural night environment; (2) fixture emits only as much light as necessary for the intended purpose; (3) a full cutoff fixture is used when the output is more than 3,200 lumens; and (4) in the case of roadway lighting, the purpose of an artificial light cannot be achieved by installing reflective markers, lines, informational signs, etc. Exceptions may apply.

Connecticut

Conn. Gen. Stat. §13a-110a

Prohibits the use of state funds to install or replace a permanent outdoor lighting fixture on a roadway unless (1) the fixture is designed to maximize energy conservation and minimize light pollution, (2) the fixture emits only as much light as necessary for the intended purpose, (3) a full cutoff fixture is used when the output is more than 1,800 lumens and (4) the purpose of an additional light cannot be achieved by lowering the speed limit, installing reflective markers, etc. Exceptions may apply.

Conn. Gen. Stat. §4b-16

Prohibits the use of state funds to install or replace a permanent outdoor lighting fixture on the grounds of any state building unless (1) the fixture is designed to maximize energy conservation and minimize light pollution, (2) the fixture emits only as much light as necessary for the intended purpose and (3) a restricted uplight fixture is used when the output is more than 1,800 lumens. Exceptions may apply.

Delaware

Del. Code Ann. tit. 7, §§7101a et seq.

Prohibits the use of state funds to install or replace a permanent outdoor lighting fixture unless (1) the fixture is designed to maximize energy conservation and minimize light pollution, (2) the fixture emits only as much light as necessary for the intended purpose, (3) a cutoff luminaire is used when the output is more than 1,800 lumens and (4) in the case of roadway lighting, the purpose of an additional light cannot be achieved by lowering the speed limit, installing reflective markers, etc. Exceptions may apply.

Florida

Fla. Stat. §161.163; Fla. Admin. Code §§62b-55.001 et seq.

Contains a model lighting ordinance to guide local governments in developing policies that protect hatching marine turtles from the adverse effects of artificial lighting, provide overall improvement in nesting habitat degraded by light pollution and increase successful nesting activity and production of hatchlings. 

Hawaii

2011 Hawaii Sess. Laws, Act 287

Establishes detailed standards for outdoor lighting, including a requirement that all new outdoor light fixtures emitting a certain amount of lumens be fully shielded. Where fully shielded lighting is not required, light fixtures must meet specified criteria.

Maine

2009 Me. Laws, Chap. 22

Directs the state planning office to review existing commercial outdoor lighting standards and make recommendations on language that will limit light pollution and encourage the preservation of dark skies in natural areas.

Maryland

Md. State Finance and Procurement Code Ann. §14-412

Prohibits the use of state funds to install or replace a permanent outdoor lighting fixture on the grounds of any state building unless (1) the fixture is designed to maximize energy conservation and minimize light pollution, (2) the fixture emits only as much light as necessary for the intended purpose and (3) a restricted uplight fixture is used when the output is more than 1,800 lumens. Exceptions may apply.

Minnesota

Minn. Stat. §16B.328

Requires the commissioner of administration, in consultation with other agencies and interested parties, to develop a model ordinance governing outdoor lighting to reduce light pollution that can be adapted for use by cities, counties and towns. Prohibits the use of state funds to install or replace an outdoor lighting fixture unless (1) the fixture is designed to maximize energy conservation and minimize light pollution among others, (2) the fixture emits only as much light as necessary for the intended purpose, (3) a full cutoff fixture is used when the output is more than 1,800 lumens and (4) in the case of roadway lighting, the purpose of an additional light cannot be achieved by lowering the speed limit, installing reflective markers, etc. Exceptions may apply.

New Hampshire

N.H. Rev. Stat. Ann. §§9-E:1 et seq.

Prohibits the use of state funds to install or replace a permanent outdoor lighting fixture unless (1) consideration is given to minimizing glare and light trespass, (2) the fixture emits only as much light as recommended for that purpose by the Illuminating Engineering Society of North America or the Federal Highway Administration and (3) a fully shielded fixture is used when the output is more than 1,800 lumens. Exceptions may apply. Declares it a policy of the state to encourage municipalities to enact such local ordinances and regulations as they deem appropriate to conserve energy, minimize light pollution and glare, and preserve dark skies as a feature of rural character.

New Mexico

N.M. Stat. Ann. §§74-12-1 et seq.

The Night Sky Protection Act regulates outdoor lighting fixtures to preserve the state’s dark sky while promoting safety, conserving energy and protecting the environment for astronomy. Requires all outdoor lighting fixtures to be shielded, except incandescent fixtures of 150 watts or less or other sources of 70 watts or less. Prohibits outdoor recreational facilities from using lighting after 11:00 p.m. Provides for a fine of up to $25 for any person, firm or corporation in violation of the law. Exceptions may apply.

New York N.Y. Public Buildings Law §143

Prohibits the use of state funds to install new permanent outdoor lighting fixtures or to pay for the cost of operating such fixtures unless certain requirements are met. These include the use of fully-shielded fixtures in many cases and low-wattage fixtures for ornamental roadway lighting. Provisions of the law are waived for fixtures used by emergency personnel, lighting systems for aviation and nautical safety, athletic field lighting and lighting for tunnels and roadway underpasses.

Oregon

Or. Rev. Stat. §455.573

Requires the use of shielded outdoor lighting fixtures when a light is installed or replaced on a public building. Allows a municipality to waive the above requirement when it determines that the use of a shielded lighting fixture is not practical because of the historic character of the building or for other reasons.

Rhode Island

R.I. Gen. Laws §§42-136-1 et seq.

Requires the installation of any new or replacement permanent outdoor lighting unit by or for a state agency to meet the following requirements: (1) consideration is given to conserving energy and minimizing light pollution; (2) the new or replacement fixture permits no more than 2% of the total lumen in the zone of 90 to 180 degrees if the total output is more than 3,200 lumens; (3) the fixture emits the minimum amount of light necessary for the intended purpose or the amount specified in recommendations or regulations; and (4) roadway lighting should be achieved using reflective markers, lines or informational signs in place of additional lighting unless these are not sufficient. Exceptions may apply.

Texas

Tex. Local Government Code §§240.031 et seq.

On the request of a military installation, base, or camp commanding officer, a county may adopt orders regulating the installation and use of outdoor lighting within five miles of the military facility in any unincorporated territory of the county. The order must be designed to protect against the use of outdoor lighting that interferes with military training activities. The order may require that a permit be obtained from the county prior to installation of certain types of outdoor lighting, prohibit certain types of outdoor lighting incompatible with military activities, establish a fee to cover the cost of administering the order, establish requirements for the shielding of outdoor lighting, and regulate the times during which certain types of outdoor lighting may be used. Counties subject to the law are those with a population of more than one million with at least five military bases and any county adjacent to that county that is within five miles of an installation, base, or camp. The law also applies to certain astronomical observatories.

Tex. Health and Safety Code §§425.001 et seq.

Prohibits the use of state funds to install or replace an outdoor lighting fixture on a roadway unless (1) the fixture is designed to maximize energy conservation and minimize light pollution among others, (2) the fixture emits only as much light as necessary for the intended purpose, (3) a full cutoff fixture is used when the output is more than 1,800 lumens and (4) the purpose of an additional light cannot be achieved by lowering the speed limit, installing reflective markers, etc. Exceptions may apply.

Virginia

Va. Code §2.2-1111

Requires state agencies to procure only shielded outdoor light fixtures. Provides for waivers of this requirement for operational, safety, or cost concerns, as well as specific aesthetic needs.

Wyoming

Wyo. Stat. §37-16-202

Requires electric utilities to offer tariffs for utility-provided outdoor lighting that provide an option for electric customers to choose fixtures designed to minimize light illuminating unintended areas and maintain dark skies.

District of Columbia

D.C. Code Ann. §§8-1776.01 et seq.

Directs the preparation of a report recommending strategies and standards for optimal lighting methods and levels in the District of Columbia. The report must include an analysis of standards advocated for by the International Dark Sky Association, among others.

Puerto Rico

P.R. Code §§8031 et seq.

The following applies to outdoor emission sources located on private property: (1) colored lights, lights used on signs and lights used for decoration purposes must have shades and automatic on-off switches; and (2) lighting systems that provide security or illuminate walkways, parking lots, etc. may only use low-pressure sodium emission sources. Requires certain lighting systems to be turned off between 11 p.m. and dawn the next day. Prohibits certain types of outdoor lighting fixtures unless approved by the appropriate body. Establishes classes for outdoor areas in accordance with their ambient lighting characteristics.