How Americans are allowed to light their homes is becoming the latest battleground over states rights. The Texas legislature has fired a broadside against a Federal law banning incandescent light bulbs. Under provisions in the 2007 “Energy Independence and Security Act,” traditional incandescent light bulbs will start to be phased out in January 2012, beginning with 100 watt bulbs. The purpose of the law is to promote more energy-efficient compact fluorescent bulbs by removing the competition. In the past Congress has banned products using public health, safety or welfare rationales, but the incandescent bulb is a proven, safe technology, more so than the bulbs that will replace it. So instead the Congress justified banning the bulbs under its power to regulate interstate commerce. But the Texas legislature has countered with a bill that allows continued manufacture and sale of incandescent bulbs within the state. Said Republican state representative George Lavender of Texarkana, “Let there be light.” As of this writing the bill is still awaiting signature from Governor Rick Perry.
Similar measures are being considered in South Carolina, Arizona, Georgia and Minnesota. Whether the Texas law if enacted could withstand a court challenge is an open question. The Supreme Court long ago did away with a plain reading of the commerce clause. In the 1942 case of Wickard v. Filburn, the high court ruled that the Federal government could use regulation of interstate commerce to prevent an Ohio farmer from growing chicken feed on his own land for his own chickens, something that would strike most people as being neither interstate nor commerce. But states will never resurrect their rights under the 10th Amendment by acquiescing to every dubious legislative initiative coming out of Washington. If Texas can win the Battle of the Bulb perhaps lightbulbs will be switching on over heads of state lawmakers across the country.