The Republic of T.

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Dim Bulbs in the GOP House

A light bulb burned out in our house last night. It popped when I turned on the light switch and — as dim bulbs usually do — burned intensely bright just before it went dark for good. That bulb reminds me of the Republican majority in the House, which is set to vote on a measure to repeal energy efficiency standards for light bulbs.

Republicans in Congress are pressing for a vote on one of the stranger elements of their environmental agenda a ban on the adoption of energy-efficient light bulbs.

If passed during Tuesday’s scheduled vote, a bill championed by presidential contender Michele Bachmann and others would repeal a law phasing out incandescent bulbs from 2012.

The beautiful irony of it is that the efficiency standard sponsored by a Republican representative and signed by George W. Bush himself.


Dim light bulbThe Republican-sponsored repeal bill, H.R. 2417, would undo part of a 2007 energy bill that passed with broad Republican support and was signed into law by former President George W. Bush. The primary author of the light bulb provision in the 2007 law was Representative Fred Upton, Republican of Michigan, now the chairman of the Energy and Commerce committee and the scourge of the Environmental Protection Agency.

Mr. Upton reversed his position on light bulb efficiency late last year while campaigning for the chairmanship of the powerful Energy and Commerce committee. The bulb standard, which does not ban incandescent bulbs but requires them to be more energy-efficient, was opposed by Rush Limbaugh, Glenn Beck and other conservatives as an assault on personal choice.

Mr. Upton said that his support for the original measure had been misinterpreted.

It was never my goal for Washington to decide what type of light bulbs Americans should use, he said in a statement. The public response on this issue is a clear signal that markets not governments should be driving technological advancements. I will join my colleagues to vote yes on a bill to protect consumer choice and guard against federal overreach.

I’d ask which Americans Upton is listening to, but that’s already pretty clear. It’s not the majority of Americans who are fine with the newer, more effecient light bulbs.

Nearly three of four U.S. adults, or 71%, say they have replaced standard light bulbs in their home over the past few years with compact fluorescent lamps or LEDs (light emitting diodes) and 84% say they are “very satisfied” or “satisfied” with the alternatives, according to the survey of 1,016 U.S. adults taken Feb. 15-16.

…In the USA TODAY survey, 61% of Americans call the 2007 legislation a “good” law while 31% say it’s “bad.” Support was particularly high among Democrats and self-described liberals, of whom 70% and 83% respectively called it a “good” law. Republicans and self-described conservatives were evenly split in their views.

And, by the way, there’s no “ban” involved.

“The results are overwhelmingly positive,” says Noah Horowitz, a senior scientist at the Natural Resources Defense Council, an environmental group that supports the phaseout of inefficient light bulbs.

He expects all Americans would back the law if they knew it does not ban incandescents but simply requires them to be more efficient. So the old-fashioned 100-watt bulb, which U.S. companies cannot make after Jan. 2012, will be replaced by a halogen version that produces the same light, as measured in lumens, but uses only 72 watts of electricity.

In fact consumers have more choices, not fewer.

“We support the notion that efficiency is a desirable thing, and this type of standard has been a part of our body politic for a long time,” says Moorhead of Philips. “The reality is, consumers will see no difference at all. The only difference they’ll see is lower energy bills because we’re creating more efficient incandescent bulbs.”

Moorhead explains the business case for the efficiency standard to Climate Progress:

The 2007 law set minimum efficiency level. That’s it. Everyone in the industry knew that it was set at a point that we could still make incandescent light bulbs. The industry never would have supported a law that would have banned a technology or prevented us from making a light with a certain kind of ambiance.

The reality is, the new incandescent lights were not being made because there was not an economic incentive to make them. And now Philips [and other manufacturers] makes two types that were not made before EISA. Today, under the efficiency standard, consumers have more choices, not less. They still can choose from more types of incandescent light bulbs that will be more efficient.

It’s not just Phillips making these bulbs. GE and Sylvania are also producing new, energy-efficient incandescents using the same technology. And by 2014, consumers will not be forced to buy more expensive LEDs or moderately priced CFLs — they’ll be able to buy incandescent bulbs that today cost $1.42 and use 27 percent less energy.

If just a third of the 4.4 billion medium screw-based light sockets around the country were replaced with new, efficient incandescent light bulbs, one third with compact fluorescents, and one third with LED bulbs, the annual savings could be more than $12 billion a year, says Moorhead.

“The economics work out extremely well for the consumer,” he explains.

The economics do work out well for consumers. An analysis by the Natural Resources Defense Council showed that the standard would reduce American’s energy costs by an average of $85 per household per year. That may be a paltry amount to some GOP members of the house (not even enough for a decent bottle of wine) but in this economy, every little bit of savings helps.

That’s why we started the switch to more efficient light bulbs in our house a couple of years ago. We’ve always been conservation-minded when it comes to how many lights we use. By now, our kids know (though they occasionally need to be reminded) to turn off the lights before they leave a room. Our eight-year-old learned all about energy conservation in school, and they both hear conservation messages television channels like Nickelodeon and PBS Kids. So, even the three-year-old gets into the act, sometimes reminding the two adults to turn off the lights when we’re done eating dinner, for example.

After my husband did the math, we realized that we’d save money on light bulbs themselves — on top of th energy savings — if we switched to energy effecient bulbs. So, every time a conventional bulb burns out, we’ve replaced it with a more effecient bulb. We change a lot fewer light bulbs than we used to.

Which brings me back to that once-dim-now-dead bulb I mentioned. We’re in the middle of an unemployment crisis, driven and made worse by a GOP austerity agenda that’s led to job loss and public sector layoffs in the states. On top of job losses, the economy is about to get another jolt when unemployment benefits run out in several states, further reducing consumer spending and slowing the recovery even further. Meanwhile, Republicans have walked out of debt deal negotiations again, thanks to a House caucus of tea party radicals that have reduced Speaker John Boehner to an errand boy, and led conservatives like Kathleen Parker and David Brooks to express “concern” (which is the political equivalent of having Courtney Love and Charlie Sheen show up at your intervention).

And this is what the House GOP prioritizes? It made me think of that burned out bulb the way a lot of people are starting to think about the GOP.

Republicans swept last year’s elections. The GOP captured more than 675 state legislative seats, flipped 10 governor’s mansions, gained control of over 20 state legislative chambers, and won more than 60 seats in Congress previously occupied by Democrats.

Elections this lopsided have consequences for the victors and vanquished alike. Usually these consequences come in the form of a honeymoon, with the winning party able to pursue its ideological agenda.

Social Spending CutsBut now, almost before it started, the honeymoon is over. Voters Democrats, independents, and yes, growing numbers of Republicans are concerned about tax breaks for corporations and the wealthiest Americans while working and middle-income Americans struggle to make ends meet.

…The reason behind the disenchantment is clear. The GOP has not only attacked essential services popular with the public, like public education, Medicare, and Medicaid. Republican politicians have also made scapegoats of the public employees who provide these services. Yet every one of us knows someone who works in the public sector the police officer or firefighter risking his life to protect us, the schoolteacher grappling with crowded classrooms, the public nurse in fear of losing her job. And we don’t like seeing our family, friends, and neighbors attacked. Voters across the country are demanding an annulment from the GOP.

After all, dim bulbs usually get changed. And people usually replace burned out bulbs, because nobody wants to stay in the dark. Well, almost nobody.

I think I’ll change our burned-out light bulb tonight. With an energy efficient one. It’s just good economic, ecological — and maybe also political — sense.

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