House Votes To Block Light Bulb Efficiency Standards

Rep. Burgess does not understand markets. (Credit: AP Photo)

The Energy and Water spending bill for 2014 that’s winding its way through the House was being treated as a political football before Wednesday. But this morning, as The Hill reports, the House added insult to injury by passing a GOP amendment to the bill that blocks enforcement of new light bulb standards.

Those standards were first enacted in 2007 under the Bush Administration by the Energy Independence and Security Act — though Congress has delayed implementation of the standards since. Many commentators characterized the standards as a “ban” on incandescent light bulbs, but technically they weren’t. They were merely new efficiency requirements that apply to the manufacture of all light bulbs. Incandescent light bulbs are inefficient energy users, making the new standards a nearly impossible technological hurdle for them to clear.

Of course, that’s how efficiency standards are supposed to work. Take the inefficiency of any given incandescent, multiply it by all the incandescents used across the nation, and that translates into a lot of wasted energy. That, in turn, means unnecessary energy costs for consumers and unnecessary carbon emissions, adding to the growing global threat posed by climate change. And as Times’ Michael Grunwald pointed out, even without the standards in place, alternative LED bulbs are becoming more advanced and dropping rapidly in cost, while a new super-efficient incandescent bulb that uses nanotechnology was just released as well. The standards would merely serve to speed this process even further.

It’s how markets are supposed to work: present them a challenge, and they adapt. None of that moved Rep. Michael Burgess (R-TX), however.

Last year he proposed language prohibiting any Energy Department funds from being used to implement the standards. He re-proposed that language this year, and today the House approved an amendment affixing it to the energy and water bill. “If the new energy-efficient light bulbs save money, and if they’re better for the environment, we should trust our constituents to make the choice on their own move toward these bulbs,” Burgess said while justifying his proposal. “Let the market decide.”

But the way markets work is through price signals — that’s how we sort out the value we place on the environment, versus the value we place on convenience, versus the value we place on energy, etc. And an appropriate signal for carbon emissions is precisely what we don’t have. Carbon emissions threaten future damage to lives and the economy through the droughts, heat waves, and extreme weather brought on by climate change. Right now we don’t pay for that damage when we use the types of energy that release carbon dioxide. Because of that failure, the U.S. actually subsidizes fossil fuel use far more than any other country in the world.

So for Burgess to suggest that blocking the standards amounts to “leaving it to the market to decide” is nonsensical. Without price signals, the market can’t decide.

A cap-and-trade system or a carbon tax would address this problem directly. But in their absence, efficiency standards are a decent substitute. (And even in their presence, efficiency standards are a useful compliment.) If Burgess doesn’t like the standards, and would prefer a more “market-based” solution to the problem of carbon emissions, he should put his money where his mouth is and propose one.


30 Responses to House Votes To Block Light Bulb Efficiency Standards

  1. Doug Bostrom says:

    Burgess: another person who can’t effectively administer his own metabolism but is supposed to show the rest of us the right way forward. I question his judgement.

  2. Mulga Mumblebrain says:

    A deranged metabolic state also predisposes to a deranged psyche. A brain in the early, or late stages of metabolic dysfunction, a type of neural diabetes, is on the road to dementia. Add to that the effects of Rightwing ideology, with its all-encompassing fears and hatreds, its rejection of empathy and its deification of greedy self-interest, and you produce a new species, the Reptilicans.

  3. Merrelyn Emery says:

    Nonsensical beyond belief. We haven’t been able to buy incandescents for years now. Saves you lots of trips to the shops as well as electricity, ME

  4. D. R. Tucker says:

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    Read more:
    Under Creative Commons License: Attribution

  5. Mike Roddy says:

    Burgess didn’t really give this any thought, it was an instinctive reaction. When the power and fossil fuel companies want something, he clicks his heels and says “yes sir!”.

    His district could be anywhere in Texas outside of Austin. I still like the scrawl I saw inside a restroom stall outside Dallas in 2005:

    “Nice going, Texas. You f’d up the whole world”.

  6. rollin says:

    So just don’t buy incandescent light bulbs. Who cares what Congress says, the final decision is up to us.

    In a country that produces huge amounts of light pollution and wastes electric energy by lighting up the night, do people think that energy is a problem? Inefficient trucks and cars abound. Wars with no purpose going on and on, spewing huge amounts of energy. A government and business complex that is leading us to oblivion, and we worry about a few incandescent light bulbs? How about all that flared gas at all those newly drilled oil wells? Much like our food, we throw energy away like it does not matter. So stop worrying about the little stuff, there are much bigger fish to fry.

  7. J Johnson says:

    I thought the industry was already behind the efficiency effort. I was under the impression that the manufacturers had done the necessary retooling. The “controversy” was just another Limbaugh hot air rant that he kept fueling.

    The manufacturers mostly see the efficiency standards as a win-win for themselves and consumers.

  8. Les says:

    Typical Republican BS. They have no plans to save this planet for inevitable disaster. They do not realize that it will impact the bottom line of big business and make it harder for companies to make a profit. Blind free-market economics will lead us down the road to nowhere and ultimately harm the market system itself.

  9. mulp says:

    “Many commentators characterized the standards as a “ban” on incandescent light bulbs, but technically they weren’t. They were merely new efficiency requirements that apply to the manufacture of all light bulbs, and incandescent light bulbs are inefficient energy users, making the new standards a nearly impossible technological hurdle for them to clear.”

    Boy, in supposedly correcting a factual error, a new factual error was advanced!

    The incandescent lamp manufacturers in the US and Europe agreed to an efficiency standard that knocks out cheap bulbs while giving their own improved incandescent lamps competitive parity. The standard demands increased efficiently that is precisely their state of the art for halogen incandescent lamps, which are made efficiently by highly automated equipment. This does prevent old obsolete lamp making equipment from being used in Asia to make lamps for the US and Europe.

    The efficiency standard is intended to promote US made incandescent lamps over imported lamps.

    Whether that occurs in irrelevant – Asian manufacturers will invest in new machines made in the US and operate them with lower profit margins.

    But the correct description of the Republican actions are as “promoting cheap Chinese imports to kill US manufacturing jobs.” Other than specialty lamps, none of the affected lamps have been made in the US and Europe for a decade.

    Furthermore, Republicans are arguing that capitalism is a failed concept – rather than investing in higher technology to save money in the long run, Republicans are advocating the “pennywise pound foolish” strategy of cutting corners with cheap goods and spending lots more daily operating them. This is like skipping college or trade school to quickly begin earning a low wage without benefits without job security or any possibility of advancement.

    If conservative Republicans had their way, we would still be heating and cooking with wood in the East while on the prairie they would be burning buffalo dung, because the capital cost of investing in mining and railroads can not compete with burning wood. Today’s Republicans would oppose the radical leftist big government President Lincoln who made a career promoting railroad building and oversaw the beginning of the transcontinental railroad that opened up California.

    Again, incandescent lights using the very mature halogen technology are the favored technology for the new lighting standard.

  10. Sasparilla says:

    So they attach this amendment to a House bill – that doesn’t mean anything without a matching amendment in the Senate right?

    The Senate in Dem hands has zero chance of passing this nonsense (although they pass plenty of other nonsense). It’s nice to highlight the GOP never ending to pass nonsensical items in the House but from my understanding its really meaningless since they can’t pass it in the Senate.

  11. Sasparilla says:

    This is true, the industry is behind the change and already invested in it.

    Without compatible Senate legislation I don’t think this legislation would ever take effect – and the Senate isn’t going to pass anything like this.

  12. It’s a knee-jerk reaction against “anti-freedom” regulation. I suppose Asiana ought to have been free to equip their plane however they wanted. Luckily, regulations were in place to retard the fire and anchor the seats, and most people walked away.

    why do some people see regulation as an infringement on their personal choice instead of a pragmatic, common-sense way to protect all of us? It drives me absolutely nuts.

  13. Mulga Mumblebrain says:

    The Reptilicans simply love the word ‘incandescent’, because they are habitually incandescent themselves, burning brightly with rage at all that is different from themselves. I myself, being of Incan descent, worship the Sun, and have no need for self-immolating anger or angst.

  14. Mulga Mumblebrain says:

    It is, of course, important that people be free to be as moronic, greedy, paranoid and venomous as their spleen desires. But they really have no right to impose their character flaws on others.

  15. fj says:

    High efficiency LED lighting is a no brainer as are the GOP laggards who voted against it.

  16. Mark E says:

    Thanks for a dose of reality, which, for a change, is a WELCOME dose of reality.

  17. Buck says:

    That’s what the article is proposing – impact pricing so that if people really want the bulbs they pay a premium for them. And not to prod the metaphor, but all that action may have no change on the fact that every year there’s smaller and fewer fish to fry.

  18. Paul Vincelli says:

    Three speakers that help to bridge the ideological divide on climate change.

  19. Robert in New Orleans says:

    It is the low mental wattage voters that put this “dim” wit into office that we should be concerned about!

  20. Brooks Bridges says:

    Particularly stupid, even w/o climate change considerations because shale oil and gas are looking more and more like a flash in the pan. Like in 5 years the Bakken, etc., will be producing less than 10 barrels/day. (Which is why no attempt to build pipeline.)

    In link below, Deborah Rogers, from Energy Policy Forum, explores corollaries between the recent shale gas drilling frenzy and mortgage crisis. Investment banks are at it again.

    She, in her blog, also quotes Exon saying in 2012 that 40% of their reserves are in shale oil. Includes this quote:

    “As one geologist put it: these companies appear to be in slow liquidation.”

    Talk about interesting times.

  21. Joncile Martin says:

    The story is good but your spelling not so much. The word in the first paragraph should be since, not sense. Sounds the same but two entirely different meanings.

  22. paul b says:

    Incandescents lasting 20 000 hours can and are being made for industry (eg mines).
    The current 1000 hr life of banned incandescents is by agreement among GE, Philips and Osram/Sylvania for the consumer market.
    The same manufacturers lobbied for and welcomed the current ban on generic patent expired unprofitable simple bulbs
    (why welcome what you can or can’t make? )

  23. paul b says:

    To add to my last comment, in the EU which has a ban already, the UK Gov advising Cambridge Scientific Alliance, normally supportive of energy and climate legislation, was critical of the ban regulation:

    “The total reduction in EU energy use would be 0.54 x 0.8 x 0.76% = 0.33%
    This figure is almost certainly an overestimate……
    …..Which begs the question: is it really worth it?
    Politicians are forcing a change to a particular technology which is
    fine for some applications but not universally liked, and which has
    The problem is that legislators are unable to tackle the big issues of
    energy use effectively, so go for the soft target of a high profile
    domestic use of energy…
    …This is gesture politics.”

  24. Ernesto Unionista says:

    Hey repubs! How is the jobs bill coming along?

  25. MorinMoss says:

    Based on the shenanigans and peccadillos of a few, they are not so much incandescent as merely “flaming”

  26. Brian Smith says:

    Joe. You were right to delete my Rick Perry comment and I thank you for doing it. It was over the top and not appropriate for the subject or the site.

  27. Superman1 says:

    “the final decision is up to us.” That’s true, directly or indirectly, for all energy use. But, that means we would have to take responsibility for the climate change problem, so let’s blame it on some third party.

  28. Superman1 says:

    You can generalize that statement for most of the 535 members of Congress.

  29. Superman1 says:

    Oh, please. Even a broken clock is right twice a day!

  30. Mulga Mumblebrain says:

    A rude gesture, in fact.