When even the liberal Boston Globe publishes a column by one of their finest, admittedly right-leaning columnists against the unconscionably intrusive, deeply infuriating,moronically ill-considered, powerfully rage-inducing, and supremely stupid light-bulb law, it may suggest that even Democrats are beginning to see the incandescent light. Not Democrats in the House of Representatives, of course, whose mission it is to ignore what the majority of even their own constituents desire.
Take it away, Jeff Jacoby, the premier Globe columnist who’s endowed with an admirably high-functioning brain:
Last week, a bill repealing the light bulb mandates was put to a vote in the House of Representatives; it won a majority (233-193), with nearly every Republican favoring repeal and nearly every Democrat opposed. Since two-thirds support was needed for passage, the 2007 law remains intact.
Washington oversteps its legitimate bounds all the time and usually gets away with it. But every now and then a federal encroachment is so egregious that the public rebels against it. Outlawing the light bulbs that illuminate 85 percent of American homes strikes me as such an encroachment – one that even Democrats should be embarrassed to defend.
The use of efficiency mandates to snuff out the standard light bulb was an exercise of unadulterated crony capitalism. It came about after big bulb manufacturers, frustrated by their customers’ refusal to switch from cheap throwaway incandescents to the far more profitable compact fluorescents touted by greens, decided to play hardball.
“So some years ago,’’ The New York Times Magazine noted last month, “Philips [Electronics] formed a coalition with environmental groups, including the Natural Resources Defense Council, to push for higher standards. ‘We felt that we needed to . . . show that the best-known lighting technology, the incandescent light bulb, is at the end of its lifetime,’ says Harry Verhaar, the company’s head of strategic sustainability initiatives.’’
Other corporations joined the plot, lobbying Congress to croak a product Americans overwhelmingly like and compel them to buy the more expensive substitute the industry was eager to sell them. The entire scheme, a lobbyist for the National Electrical Manufacturers Association testified candidly in 2007, was “at the industry’s initiative.’’ Unable to convince consumers to voluntarily abandon Edison’s light bulb, Big Business got the government to force the issue. “Of such deals,’’ remarks Bloomberg columnist Virginia Postrel, “are Tea Parties born.’’
Defenders of the ban insist that moving to compact fluorescents will save money in the long run, conserve energy, and be better for the environment. But countless Americans have found the case against CFLs more persuasive: They are more expensive to buy, are slow to reach full brightness, don’t work with dimmers, contain toxic mercury, and can’t be used in many ordinary fixtures. And, to many people, fluorescent light feels cold and sickly.
But even if the case for CFLs were unassailable, since when is it the government’s job to make consumers’ choices for them? Americans have no trouble adopting a superior technology once it’s ready for prime time – no law was needed to force people to switch from vinyl records to CDs, or from landlines to cell phones. Deciding what light bulbs to buy is probably a challenge they can also handle without congressional interference.
The light bulb ban may not be the biggest issue on the nation’s agenda. But it’s intrusive and obnoxious and it sets many teeth on edge. I’m betting this is one encroachment Washington won’t get away with.