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HILLYER: Save Edison’s light bulb

Repeal the fluorescent mandate

- The Washington Times - Thursday, March 17, 2011

Tea Partyers lit the latest American grass-roots fire at a national convention in Phoenix three weeks ago. It reached luminescence last weekend when a YouTube video of Sen. Rand Paul, Kentucky Republican, went viral. Now Americans everywhere are demanding that Congress repeal the pending ban on incandescent light bulbs.

Unfortunately, the light bulb still hasn't switched on in the heads of congressional leaders, who have not made repeal enough of a priority. It ought to be easy procedurally, and good politics, too, to zip the simple repeal to the president's desk sooner rather than later.

Americans like the good, old-fashioned Edison light bulb for good reason. Its light is better than that of the newfangled compact fluorescent ones. On the front end, it costs only about one-eighth as much. It's easier to dispose of, with none of the mercury dangers of fluorescents. Most important, Americans resent when government limits their choices. People are sick of government meddling.

"You can't go around your house without being told what to buy," Mr. Paul said at a March 9 hearing of the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee. "You restrict my purchases. You don't care about my choices."

Sen. Jim Risch, Idaho Republican, worried about the safety of the new bulbs.

"In Idaho, we've had a number of instances where they've had a mercury spill in a science laboratory ... and they immediately closed the school down for, I don't know, a number of days while they cleaned it up," he said. "Can you imagine mercury bulbs throughout a school? I mean, any time a kid wants a day off, he's going to break a mercury light bulb, and that's going to shut that school down."

In the House, Rep. Joe L. Barton and Rep. Michael C. Burgess, both Texas Republicans, have introduced separate bills to repeal the ban. Sen. Michael B. Enzi, Wyoming Republican, and Sen. Jim DeMint, South Carolina Republican, introduced their own bill on Feb. 17. Their BULB (Better Use of Light Bulbs) Act already has 27 co-sponsors. Timeliness is important. By next Jan. 1, selling 100-watt incandescent bulbs will be illegal. Bans on lower-watt incandescents are to follow in subsequent years. Already the ban has cost American jobs. In September, the last major GE incandescent plant in the United States closed, costing 200 jobs in Winchester, Va. Many stores already have stopped stocking the 100-watt versions. Distribution chains are rusting away.

It's particularly galling that fluorescent bulbs often don't even deliver the promised benefits to offset their higher upfront costs and safety hazards. "For some uses, they just aren't good at all," said Myron Ebell, president of Freedom Action, a grass-roots free-market group that collected 11,000 petition signatures against the ban in just three weeks. Mr. Ebell said he has found that basic fluorescent bulbs, which sell for about $4 each, last no longer than the Edison lights if they are turned on and off regularly, if used for outdoor lighting or if used in enclosed fixtures such as recessed lighting. He said expensive fluorescents in the $10 to $12 range might work well under those conditions - but compared to the approximately 50-cent cost of the old type of bulb, that's a bad deal, too.

House conservatives could make a point of fighting obnoxious government controls on consumer products if they staged a series of quick, easy-to-understand votes on stand-alone bills repealing various silly mandates. On Feb. 28, the San Francisco Chronicle reported that low-flow toilets were backing up plumbing all over the City by the Bay, causing a major stink. Congress easily could repeal the ban on big-flush commodes. In separate votes, it could do likewise on energy- and water-efficiency standards for washing machines, dishwashers, shower heads and air-conditioning units - all of which cause problems, negating the aim of nanny-state regulations. It's past time for politicians to understand what the public already knows: Limiting consumer choice isn't very bright.

Quin Hillyer is a senior editorial writer for The Washington Times.

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