Politics & Policy

Let There Be Light!

The 1,219-page, trillion-dollar omnibus spending bill that will fund the government through fiscal year 2012 appears to be the usual mix of compromise and compromised. But out of the mire of horse-trading and half-measures there is at least one bright light: bright light itself.

As we understand it, the omnibus contains a rider defunding Department of Energy efficiency standards that would have effectively killed the incandescent light bulb on January 1. The reprieve is temporary — instead of repealing the relevant regulations, it merely stalls their implementation through next September. But riders are sticky things, often renewed automatically, and this rider marks an important win for House Republicans, consumer choice, and Edison’s fine old filaments.

Breaking liberals’ usual rule about government not intruding in the bedroom, Stephen Chu’s DOE would have insinuated itself into your bedroom and into every other room of your domicile, casting the pale pall and dreary buzzing of compact fluorescence over every home in America.

And why? For our own good, Chu says, to “tak[e] away a choice that continues to let people waste their own money.” What a splendid mission statement for the DOE, and a pithy summation of the case for abolishing it. Call us old-fashioned, but we think that if government interventions into a market are ever justified, they are justified on the grounds of giving consumers more choice. Regulation undertaken in the name of Green piety inevitably offers less. One need look no further than the contemporaneous, and so far successful, move by the FDA to ban arguably the most effective asthma inhalers because they contain CFCs. In Bureaucraworld, Freon in the atmosphere trumps oxygen in the lungs.

In a way, the damage done by the promise of the incandescent ban is irreversible: GE closed its last U.S. factory making incandescent lights in 2010, as GE chair and Obama crony Jeffrey Immelt counted on a rush of new business for his more expensive fluorescent bulbs. And Democrats will no doubt claim a “compromise” in the rider, as they have apparently managed to insert language forcing the recipients of DOE grants in excess of $1 million to meet the mothballed standards in any event. But DOE grants are not exactly held in the highest esteem these days, and should themselves be continued targets for conservative cuts. The branches have been pruned; next up, the roots.

The obvious joke here is, “How many bureaucrats does it take to screw up the light bulb?” Thanks to this small victory, we’ll have to wait at least until September to hear the punch line.


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