IE 11 is not supported. For an optimal experience visit our site on another browser.

Congress' not-so-bright idea on light bulbs

Seven years ago, George W. Bush approved a policy to improve light-bulb efficiency. After President Obama took office, Republicans decided this was a problem.
Joe Mozloom and Allison Roethke shop for compact fluorescent bulbs at an Ikea store in Philadelphia, Tuesday, June 15, 2010.
Joe Mozloom and Allison Roethke shop for compact fluorescent bulbs at an Ikea store in Philadelphia, Tuesday, June 15, 2010. 
Way back in 2007, the newly elected Democratic Congress and the Republican White House thought they could work together on a credible energy bill, and they actually had a fair amount of success. One of the provisions, co-authored by Rep. Fred Upton (R-Mich.), dealt with advanced light-bulb standards intended to spur innovation, lower costs, and improve energy efficiency.
The package passed with fairly broad support, and George W. Bush signed the bill into law without much fuss.
Slowly but surely, the light-bulb policy worked exactly as its authors intended, and as long-time readers may recall, the whole thing looked like a bipartisan success story. Regular consumers, such as those shown above, made the transition to better, more efficient bulbs.
But soon after President Obama took office, the Republican posture shifted. Suddenly, the Bush/Cheney energy bill was a classic example of Big Government using authoritarian tactics to "ban" popular sources of light. By 2012, Mitt Romney, Rush Limbaugh, and a variety of conservative leaders decided the bulb policy was a left-wing scourge worthy of attack.
And this year, far-right critics of light-bulb efficiency actually had some success thanks to the $1.1 spending bill known as the "CRomnibus."

The bill blocks new energy efficient standards that would have made incandescent light bulbs obsolete. Consumers had complained about the new requirements.

This is not good news.
Stephen Stromberg reported on the consequences of the changed policy.

Lawmakers didn't ban incandescent bulbs [in 2007]. Instead they demanded that bulbs produced in or imported into the U.S. use no more than a certain amount of electricity to produce a certain amount of light. If manufacturers could make incandescents less wasteful, they could produce the improved bulbs freely. One result has been a boom in the commercialization of new lighting technologies that could save Americans some $6 billion next year. [...] The rules are still technically on the books, and major manufacturers have switched over to producing better bulbs. But the government won't be able to stop anyone from playing to people's short-term bottom line by producing, importing or selling ancient Edison bulbs.

This probably should have been the subject of some actual debate -- do policymakers want to waste money and emissions on inefficient bulbs? -- but the right feared an argument that Republicans might lose.
So, they shoved the policy into the spending bill, which is poised to become law.