Politics & Policy

Let There Be Light

Freedom Action defends the incandescent light bulb.

In the beginning, Congress banned the incandescent light bulb.

And the people were without rest. Seventy-two percent believed the government had no right to dictate their lighting choices. And darkness covered the nation, as the ban’s effective date, Jan. 1, 2012, drew near.

And the people said, “Let there be light.” But will there be light?

If Freedom Action succeeds, there will. A political-advocacy group formed by members of the Competitive Enterprise Institute, FA recently launched a campaign to repeal the ban. Starting with an online petition, the group hopes to gather enough grassroots support to move legislation in Congress.

The ban is only the latest ham-handed attempt by the government to increase energy efficiency, says Myron Ebell, FA’s director. Over the years, the feds have fiddled with washing machines, air conditioners, and dishwashers. Luckily for FA, they’ve ticked off a lot of people in the process. Still, Ebell knows anger alone won’t guarantee success.

“After the low-flush toilet was mandated, there was this explosion of opposition to it, but it never got focused,” Ebell says. This time, he plans “to focus more of the public’s anger on Congress. We’re starting with the petition; then once we have people’s names, we will ask them to contact Congress. We’ll then start working on members.”

Indeed, they’ve got a head start. Rep. Joe Barton (R., Texas) has already introduced H.R. 91, the “Better Use of Light Bulbs” Act. Meanwhile, Sen. Mike Enzi (R., Wyo.) and Rep. Michael Burgess (R., Texas) are expected to introduce their own legislation soon.

Barton’s bill repeals the section of the Energy Independence and Security Act of 2007 that in effect bans incandescent bulbs. Burgess’s, however, has humbler ambitions: It would exempt from the ban buildings in which “vulnerable” and unwieldy populations reside. That’s because Congress’s crowned alternative to the incandescent light bulb, the compact fluorescent bulb, contains mercury. Whenever such a bulb breaks, the Environmental Protection Agency advises, people should leave the room for 15 minutes to avoid the fumes.  

“What happens if you have a hospital nursery of newborn babies?” Burgess asks.

That said, Burgess also supports outright repeal: “The light from compact fluorescent bulbs is like something out of a Soviet stairwell. For those of us of a certain age, this wavelength of light is extremely unflattering. It makes us look older than it needs to. And as you get to a certain age, your eyesight isn’t as good as it needs to be. . . . Don’t tell me that I’ve got to read by a certain wavelength of light.”

One problem repeal advocates face, however, is a Republican. Rep. Fred Upton (Mich.) is chairman of the House Energy and Commerce Committee. He voted for the ban in 2007. And though Upton has promised to hold a hearing, he has not promised his vote to upend it.

“I don’t know what it might take [to win Upton’s vote],” Ebell admits. “He may find out that his constituents don’t like it any more than other constituents.”

For now, Upton is mum on the subject. An Upton spokesman tells NRO that the congressman “has repeatedly pledged to reexamine the light-bulb-efficiency rules to determine whether implementation would restrict individual liberty in a way Congress never intended. He looks forward to a hearing on the issue, working with committee members to learn all the facts about what has happened in the market since enactment of the law.”

Nonetheless, Ebell feels confident in his cause. “I think there’s a practical issue and there’s a principle issue. I think most people are so annoyed when they’re told you’re going to use only CFL that they also get the principle. I think both of those together make a very powerful argument.”

Let’s hope Upton notices support for repeal and sees that it is good.

— Brian Bolduc is a William F. Buckley Fellow at the National Review Institute. 


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