Shedding Some Light On Congress

September 6, 2011

This past summer we witnessed a true exercise in nonsense by our hard working members of Congress. While our nation drifted toward potential default on the federal debt, the House of Representatives struggled to overturn a Republican sponsored, bipartisan law enacted in 2007 and signed by President Bush, which mandated increased energy saving standards for the common light bulb. In four short years, the energy conservation law went from being a good idea Republicans and Democrats could embrace to becoming a Tea Party example of unwarranted government intrusion into our lives.

Thus, Representative Joe Barton (R., Texas) this year introduced the Better Use of Light Bulbs (BULB, get it?) Act, repealing any such energy efficiency standards, on the grounds that the former Act “bans” normal light bulbs and requires use of CFL’s (Compact Fluorescent Lights), those spiral shaped bulbs we’re seeing more and more often.

The newly discovered perspective on this evil legislation even convinced its former co-sponsor Fred Upton (R., Mich.) to switch and work for its repeal. Unfortunately for them, however, the House defeated the proposed repeal of the law on a 233-193 vote, which failed to reach the necessary two-thirds majority.

So, what happened to turn so many Republican heads against a law they sponsored four years ago, including Rep. Upton who currently chairs the House Energy and Commerce Committee? A recent campaign by Rush Limbaugh, Rep. Michelle Bachmann (“President Bachmann will allow you to buy any light bulb you want”), and Tea Party “leader” Sen. Jim DeMint (R., S.C.) cast the law as a federally mandated ban on normal light bulbs. The law did no such thing, and simply spurred innovative light bulb manufacturers to find better ways to tackle the original, energy hungry, incandescent bulb invented by Thomas Edison in 1880, back when energy was home grown and plentiful.

Light Bulb Ready to Make the Switch

In fact, major American light bulb manufacturers such as Sylvania, Philips and General Electric (founded by Edison) were in favor of the 2007 legislation, and are in the process of unveiling new light bulbs, including incandescent bulbs, that meet the new federal standards and save the country billions in energy costs per year. It is estimated that the new standards will save the average household between $100 and $200 per year in energy costs and reduce harmful heat-trapping gases equivalent to the emissions from 17 million cars. Even Edison’s family is in favor of such innovations. Barry Edison Sloane, Edison’s great-grandson, stated: “I am appalled that any legislative body would be so narrow-minded as to discourage new and advanced technology.” Nope, no light bulb ban anywhere in sight.

Pushing Dirty Energy

So what’s behind this sudden aversion to a law everyone seemed to love just four years ago? According to columnist Jim Hightower, a big part of the recent attempt to derail the law came from the Koch brothers, leading financiers of the conservative “lights” mentioned above.  Koch Industries is a $35 billion privately held petrochemical company, and as Hightower points out, the Koch brothers are in the “dirty energy business and profit when you use more of it to light your house.”

Political debate in this country has become so polarized that we can’t even seem to be able to agree on a simple proposition that saving energy costs and promoting innovation are good things.