AT A time when the United States is confronting big, imposing problems, Representative Joe Barton, Republican of Texas, has launched a crusade against light bulb regulation. His Better Use of Light Bulbs (BULB) Act sought to repeal very sensible light-bulb efficiency standards passed in 2007 - regulations that were supported by industry and conservationist alike. But after BULB was defeated in the House last week, Barton and his party succeeded in passing an amendment to the Energy Department’s appropriations bill which stripped the federal funding required to enforce the 2007 act.
If this amendment gets through the Senate as well, it will undo parts of the Energy Independence and Security Act of 2007, which passed both the House and the Senate by sizable margins and was signed into law by President Bush. Despite Barton’s claims otherwise, the act didn’t ban incandescent bulbs, but rather mandated that they become more energy efficient by a set of deadlines between 2012 and 2014. If this was a troubling interference with commerce, the major light-bulb manufacturers had a curious way of demonstrating their displeasure - by supporting it and developing new, compliant incandescent bulbs.
Light-bulb giant Philips estimates that if the law spurs merely modest changes in consumer behavior, it could lead to savings of $12 billion a year. Such a reduction in electricity usage would help reduce dependency on fossil fuels and reduce global warming. And the impact on consumers, beyond the energy savings they’ll accrue, will be quite limited.
When fuel-efficiency standards for cars and trucks were first imposed in the ’70s, many critics bemoaned the end of the big, comfy car; in fact, manufacturers quickly found ways to cut fuel use. The same will be true of the dire predictions about undimmable lights and unattractively twisted bulbs that accompany these efficiency standards. This law will put the force of the market to work in promoting technological improvement.
Barton is, of course, the oil-state congressman who famously apologized to BP’s Tony Hayward for the White House’s efforts to get his company to compensate victims of its massive oil spill. Barton’s supposed advocacy for light-bulb consumers is another way of apologizing to energy companies - for having come up with a common-sense way to reduce demand for their products.
The Senate should - without apology - reject Barton’s underhanded attempt to prevent energy conservation.