Republicans Flicker On Light Bulb Ban Repeal

The Republican House is flinching on passing the simplest and most symbolic piece of legislation this term: repeal of the incandescent light bulb phase out.  Amidst great fanfare and promises to restore limited government, the new majority is proving it isn't much different than the old majority.

The incandescent phase out required under the so-called Energy Independence and Security Act of 2007 starts with banning regular 100 watt light bulbs on Jan 1, 2012. 75 watters will be banned a year later.  60 watters  fade in 2014. 

Some of us still cling to a quaint notion that federal legislation ought to pass constitutional muster while fixing a problem serious enough to fix and do so while providing more benefits than the costs to implement.  The light bulb ban fails to achieve all three:

1) it is unconstitutional (see my previous screed on this aspect);

2) is a solution without a problem; and

3) bears costs far in excess of any benefits.

The light bulb ban was inspired by environmental and energy conservation zealots spooked by the global warming lobby.  And those economic rent-seeking players in the lighting industry who could benefit from legislated self-interest, were happy to join as co-conspirators. Those companies who were less enthused about the light bulb ban found resisting futile, in the end happy enough to delay the effective dates to allow for more orderly close down of factories and job eliminations.

So, what have learned since 2007?  For starters, the global warming agenda has collapsed, polluted with data manipulation scandals.  And where the data haven't been tainted by hyper-partisans, independent measurements are proving that global warming predictions are as useful as pre-season college football polls.

We have also learned that coal fired power plants, the leading villain in the light bulb ban morality play, haven't been affected one whit by energy conservation mandates for households.  In fact not a single coal fired power plant has been taken off-line as a result of the steady conversion from household incandescents to CFLs in the past 5 years, and none ever will be.  Those hyper-partisans from the likes of the Natural Resources Defense Council predicting that 30 coal fired plants would be eliminated due to the light bulb ban have never been challenged to name one.   Name one,  just one.  Coal fired plants may get the axe from draconian EPA regs, but not from household light bulbs.

Defenders of the light bulb ban have failed to provide a single rationale why the government should meddle with consumer light bulbs.  Do they present a safety hazard?  No, certainly unlike the most prevalent replacement, the CFL laden with mercury.  Do they present a performance or quality scam?  Of course not, light output and reliability from incandescent light bulbs for household use has been the gold standard perfected over 75 years.  And compared with any other light source that contains no hazardous components, incandescent light bulbs are still the cheapest product on the shelf.

The last remaining defense for the federal light bulb ban coming from NEMA, the National Electrical Manufacturers Association, the trade group for the light bulb industry, is the pre-emption defense.  Because several states, notably California, were poised to enact their own consumer light bulb statutes -- all different -- the feds had to step in to create harmony.  This is the bureaucrat's defense, devoid of principle, arguing that bad legislation is better than something worse.  If individual states want to enact different product standards, let the marketplace decide whether manufacturers will produce such versions and let those states bear the higher costs for their commercial isolationism.

No doubt Congressional Republicans who aided and abetted the 2007 light bulb ban, are now feeling sheepish, unwilling to admit they were bumfuzzled and bamboozled.  Rather than admit a mistake having negligible consequences in confessing, they would rather persist in a supporting a law that completely contradicts the Republicans' new agenda -- less government interference, fewer regulations, moratoria on cost burdens passed on to businesses and consumers, and restored liberties to the people.

There is no downside for any Republican, and even many conservative Democrats, to vote yes on the light bulb ban repeal. Who would be harmed by a repeal?  Workers facing layoffs or those already unemployed?  Consumers facing fewer, more expensive and less effective choices on retail shelves?  Retailers faced with ultra-life lightbulb substitutes seeing less traffic in their housewares aisles? Environmentalists and parents of young children who now have to cope with broad spectrum mercury contamination from kitchens and bedrooms to landfills?

What is the upside to vote upholding the light bulb ban?  Is there any?

Who else would benefit from the repeal? Anyone in Congress who wants to get re-elected.   And in addition to workers, consumers, retailers and environmentalists, the Republicans would benefit from proving their bona fides.  The Republicans were swept into power by the force of the limited government agenda.  Repealing the light bulb ban would at least be a symbolic victory, perhaps paving the way for more ambitious reversals. 

Will the Republicans deliver the simplest legislative win on the path to stopping government interference in our daily lives -- a task as easy as naming a post office? If not, there is no hope for repealing ObamaCare, reforming entitlements, reversing the EPA, enacting a balanced budget, or restoring the principles of limited government to this nation.