House GOP Wastes Time on Inane Light Bulb Battle

The wasted time wouldn't be so bad if the debt and deficit didn't need Congress's full attention.

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How many House Republicans does it take to unscrew an energy-efficient light bulb law?

We can’t be sure, since it was done on a voice vote. But it was a GOP-driven effort, and an avowed GOP victory for the rights of energy-inefficient light bulb users everywhere, when the House voted last week to defund a federal law requiring that light bulbs be 30 percent more efficient by 2012. The law—notably passed and signed during the Bush administration—does not explicitly ban incandescent bulbs the GOP’s constituents claim to love so much, but the energy standards certainly would result in the old-style bulbs being phased out.

[See a roundup of political cartoons on energy policy and climate change].

The absurdity of the policy fight itself is irritating. It’s just a light bulb, for heaven’s sake. It’s not even standards for automobile mileage and efficiency. The better light bulbs are supposed to end up saving consumers pots of money in the long run, since they last longer and use less energy. And the newer bulbs are a noteworthy aspect of the 21st century environmental movement. Instead of asking consumers to lower their thermostats or put on a sweater (still not a bad idea), environmentalists and just basically sensible people are finding ways to use technology to reduce energy consumption. Consumers don’t really notice the difference, because devices and appliances are simply built better, and are running more efficiently. The result is cash savings, a kinder impact on the environment, and a boost for national security. Anytime we can decrease our energy output, it helps ease out overall reliance on foreign sources of energy. [Check out our new energy intelligence blog.]

But given the rhetoric and behavior of some House members last week, you would have thought there was a totalitarian takeover of the country looming, with jack-booted thugs breaking into people’s homes and … what? Unscrewing the incandescent bulbs and putting in better ones? One wonders what bizarre fantasy the light bulb Luddites are experiencing. [See a slide show of 10 reasons Americans aren't talking about climate change.]

But it would just be another amusing Washington sideshow if there was nothing else of import demanding Congress’s full attention. For example, the nation is dangerously close to defaulting on its debt, which would be devastating for the country as a whole and individuals. The only Americans who would not be hurt by default are those who have no credit cards, no mortgages, no kids in college or hoping to go to college, no pension or other retirement funds, and no car loans. That’s for starters, anyway. All those interest rates would shoot up, levying a tax on consumers that would be extremely burdensome for rank-and-file Americans while contributing nothing to lower the deficit or debt.

So there’s enough work to do without feuding about bulbs. Let’s hope Congress sees the light.

  • Check out our new energy intelligence blog.
  • See a roundup of political cartoons on energy policy and climate change.
  • See a slide show of 10 animals that are threatened by global warming.