Who’s afraid of the big, bad light bulb? The GOP pushed through two energy related riders to the omnibus spending bill this week, and while Senator Orrin Hatch (R-UT) called President Obama a “scaredy cat” over the Keystone XL Pipeline rider, the other rider doesn’t exactly cast Republican legislators in a courageous light: it delays funding for the implementation of law that phases in new energy efficiency standards for light bulbs.
The standards, which were first passed by Congress in 2007 and signed into law by President George W. Bush, require 25 percent greater efficiency from all light bulbs sold in the U.S., beginning with 100-watt in 2012. As incandescents are currently unable to reach such levels of efficiency, the new standards would have effectively taken them off the market beginning in January, leading some conservatives to characterize the standards as a light bulb “ban.”
The aversion to new lighting technology has also infected the Republican presidential field with the jitters. At least three — Representatives Michele Bachmann and Ron Paul, and Texas Governor Rick Perry — have actively championed the rollback of new standards, with Perry going so far as to sign state legislation to that effect in June.
The Republican focus on preserving the market for incandescent light bulbs seems somewhat arbitrary, given the innumerable federal standards that govern the design of other common household products from microwaves and power tools to hair dryers and lawn mowers, none of which have raised quite as much alarm as the new light bulb standards this year.
Not surprisingly, the opposition to new energy efficiency standards for light bulbs reflects an ongoing pattern of disconnect between Republican leadership and popular opinion. While Bachmann highlighted her concern with “liberty for light bulbs” in a recent speech, an overwhelming majority of American consumers don’t really care or are looking forward to trying out new bulbs, and many have already tried some new lights well in advance of the phase-in (thank you, Oprah).
The light bulb rider also underscores a growing disconnect between the Republican Party and some of its traditional constituencies in the business sector. Lighting manufacturers, for one, have objected strongly to the new rider. They have already invested deeply in R&D to comply with the new standards, and the rollback puts them at a competitive disadvantage with noncompliant products.
It also highlights the disconnect between Republican legislative priorities and job creation. The rider does not create jobs, but it does put a damper on job growth for companies that are transitioning their workforce to new technologies, as well as for high tech startups like Texas-based (irony alert) Firefly LED Lighting.
In addition, the Republican position on light bulbs puts the consumer sector at odds with a strong across-the-board push by the U.S. military to introduce more efficient lighting at its facilities, a policy highlighted by the Army’s “Net Zero” program that aims to create “a culture that recognizes the value of sustainability measured not just in terms of financial benefits, but benefits to maintaining mission capability, quality of life, relationships with local communities, and the preservation of options for the Army’s future.”
At least one well known conservative organization that supports the rider, Phyllis Schlafly’s Eagle Forum, has branded its position as saving the “Edison” light bulb (what, they don’t think their supporters can pronounce incandescent?). However, according to statements solicited earlier this year by the National Resources Defense Council from four descendants of the great man himself, Edison would not approve of the rider.
As great-grandson Barry Edison Sloane explained:
“I am appalled that any legislative body would be so narrow-minded as to discourage new and advanced technology. If my great-grandfather were alive today…he would have already moved on to the better, cleaner, sustainable technology well before certain legislators put their opinions into the mix…It is ironic that the very people who are supporting the legislation…are the ones who espouse free markets. Edison would certainly have recognized that the wave of the future— profits—is to make it better, cheaper and, yes, cleaner and more efficient.”
In any case, while passage of the rider may provide the above-mentioned Republican candidates for President with a victory to claim as they stump around the country, in the end it looks more like a case of fear and trembling over nothing but a little ol’ light bulb.