- The Washington Times - Thursday, December 27, 2012

The free market operates by offering incentives to consumers to change their behavior. Cutting prices, advertising and developing new products redirect the public’s impulses in a natural, painless way. The government, on the other hand, has no passion or patience for this sort of thing.

Words like “must,” “shall,” and “mandate” pepper the texts of laws like Obamacare. The incandescent light-bulb ban, which goes into effect in March, is another case in point. The bulbs aren’t officially banned, just artificially obsolete. As part of the Energy Independence and Security Act of 2007, Congress mandated that light bulbs have 25 percent greater efficiency, phased in starting in 2012 and continuing until 2014. The law also includes a slew of mandates on appliances and energy use in federal buildings.

A 310-page masterpiece of micromanagement, the law was promoted heavily by then-House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, San Francisco Democrat, and signed by President George W. Bush. The bill was driven by a consortium of manufacturers that stand to profit from forcing people to buy more expensive bulbs and fixtures, plus the environmental lobby, which likes to pretend government regulations can lower the planet’s temperature.

Alarmed at the prospect of being forced by law to purchase expensive, squiggly compact fluorescent light (CFL) bulbs instead of cheap, warm incandescent bulbs, Americans complained loudly. In the face of a popular revolt, Congress pushed the start date back to October 2012 and defunded enforcement of efficiency standards as part of the 2012 and 2013 appropriations bills.

However, seeing the writing on the wall, manufacturers began phasing out incandescents. The last major General Electric factory that made them closed in Winchester, Va., in September 2010, putting 200 people out of work. One hundred-watt bulbs are already gone in some stores.

Part of the resistance to the CFL bulbs, most of which are made in China, stems from the fact that they contain mercury. The Environmental Protection Agency had to create a suggested regimen to deal with the extreme hazard of broken fluorescents. The first step is to have people and pets leave the room, which then must be aired out for five to 10 minutes by opening a window or door to the outdoor environment. Next, any central-air heating or air-conditioning system must be shut down. Homeowners then must collect materials needed to clean up the broken bulb. EPA warns, “Vacuuming is not recommended unless broken glass remains after all other cleanup steps have been taken. Vacuuming could spread mercury-containing powder or mercury vapor.” There’s much more, including recycling directions. A shattered incandescent bulb, by contrast, can just be tossed in a garbage bin without triggering an environmental calamity.

Some consumers like the trendy fluorescent light bulbs despite the cited risks and expense. Others prefer the cheap, safe bulbs that don’t have to be recycled and were made in America. Forcing everyone to use only government-approved bulbs is classic overreach. Whose bright idea was that?

The Washington Times