Team Trump's rhetoric about light bulbs gets even dimmer

This Jan. 17, 2017, file photo shows General Electric light bulbs on display at a store, in Wilmington, Mass.
This Jan. 17, 2017, file photo shows General Electric light bulbs on display at a store, in Wilmington, Mass. 

At a campaign rally last week, Donald Trump used some familiar rhetoric in reference to light bulbs. "We're even bringing back the old light bulb," the president told supporters in Michigan. "You heard about that, right? The old light bulb, which is better. I say, why do I always look so orange? You know why, because of the new light, they're terrible. You look terrible."

Of course, by that reasoning, wouldn't everyone look orange under energy-efficient light bulbs, and not just the guy making unfortunate makeup choices?

Regardless, over the weekend, the White House used its official Twitter feed to pitch a related message:

If you like your lightbulbs, you can keep your lightbulbs! The Obama Admin tried to limit Americans to buying more-expensive LED bulbs for their homes -- but thanks to President @realDonaldTrump, go ahead and decorate your house with whatever lights you want.

Oh, good. Team Trump has shifted its attention from toilets to light bulbs.

There are a couple of angles to this that are worth keeping in mind, especially as the president keeps pushing this line as if he's done something worthwhile. First, Trump's light bulb decision represents a major step backwards for U.S. energy policy. The Washington Post reported that this one misguided change, according to consumer research, will "boost energy costs by $14 billion a year and generate 38 million tons of carbon dioxide annually."

A report in The Hill added that the administration's new rule "will increase U.S. electricity use by 80 billion kilowatt hours over the course of a year, roughly the amount of electricity needed to power all households in Pennsylvania and New Jersey, according to an analysis by the Appliance Standards Awareness Project."

This isn't something Trump should be proud of; it's something he should find embarrassing.

Second, while the White House seems eager to blame (credit?) the Obama administration for taking steps to improve U.S. energy efficiency, the policy Trump is undoing pre-dates the Obama era.

Circling back to our earlier coverage, 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 light-bulb standards intended to spur innovation, lower costs, and improve energy efficiency.

The parties worked together on this, the bill passed, and policy did exactly what it was intended to do. It looked like a rare example of a modern, bipartisan success story.

So what happened? Soon after Barack Obama became president, the Republican posture on the issue 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.

Or put another way, light bulbs became a culture-war issue. It no longer mattered whether the policy was working – because in a post-policy party, the efficacy of governance is irrelevant.

The fight isn’t necessarily over, and the Natural Resources Defense Council, among others, has suggested the Trump administration’s move is illegal. Litigation appears likely.

But in the meantime, it appears the Republican administration is engaged in an elaborate trolling exercise that will increase electricity usage at a time when we need to be doing the opposite.