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The Trump administration's not-so-bright idea on light bulbs

Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump is seen during a press conference at Los Pinos on Aug. 31, 2016 in Mexico City, Mexico. (Photo by Hector Vivas/LatinContent/Getty)
Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump is seen during a press conference at Los Pinos on Aug. 31, 2016 in Mexico City, Mexico.

There was no good reason for the Trump administration to roll back lightbulb energy-efficiency standards, but that's exactly what happened this week.

Under one action, the Energy Department will repeal a regulation enacted under President Barack Obama, set to take effect on Jan. 1, 2020, requiring an expanded number of lightbulbs in the U.S. to be in compliance with stricter energy efficiency standards. That regulation change was spun off of a 2007 law signed by President George W. Bush that aimed to gradually phase out energy inefficient bulbs like incandescent and halogen bulbs.The regulation that's being eliminated would have redefined four categories of incandescent and halogen bulbs so that they would be subject to existing energy efficiency rules from which they were previously exempt. It would have applied to about half of the 6 billion lightbulbs used in the U.S., experts have said. [...]Trump's Energy Department also nixed new energy efficiency standards for all pear-shaped lightbulbs that were also scheduled to go into effect Jan. 1, 2020.

I can appreciate why no one uses the phrase "lightbulb energy-efficiency standards" as click-bait, but this isn't trivial. As The Hill's report added, the Trump 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."

Rachel used a line on the show last night that stood out for me: she noted that the bulb standards were "working." That's exactly right, and it's a highly relevant detail.

As longtime readers may recall, 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, lightbulbs 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 polar opposite.