Did the Texas Light Bulb Two Step Bring Fred Upton to the Dance?

By: June 21, 2011

The encouraging headlines this weekend that the Texas Legislature had passed and Governor Rick Perry had signed into law a bill that allows Texans to make and sell within the State of Texas the 100 watt incandescent light bulbs banned throughout the entire country by the federal government, effective January 1, 2012, quickly gave way to a realistic assessment of the actual impact of the bill.

Don’t count on the passage of this bill resulting in the manufacture or sale of a single banned incandescent light bulb anywhere in Texas.

The devil, as they say, is in the details, and here are the devilish details of the law:

It simply authorizes the Attorney General of Texas, upon receiving notice that a resident of Texas intends to manufacture the banned incandescent light bulbs in Texas for sale exclusively in Texas, to request a ruling from a Federal District Court Judge based in Texas on the constitutionality of the proposed manufacturing plan. Only upon receiving a green light from the Federal District Court Judge will the Attorney General allow the proposed manufacturing project to proceed.

The catch is that unless all of the components of the incandescent light bulbs are native to Texas, the Federal District Court Judge will almost certainly advise the Texas Attorney General that the Texas Manufacturing project is unconstitutional, so long as the federal statute that authorized the ban– the 2007 Energy Independence and Security Act — remains in effect.

The glass exterior shells of almost every incandescent light bulb now manufactured in the United States is produced on a ribbon machine operated at the Slyvania-Osram plant in St. Mary’s Pennsylvania. When those components are shipped from Pennsylvania to Texas, the project is no longer an “intra-state” venture immune from federal authority. Likewise, the tungsten filament that provide the heat and light in the bulb when an electric current is run through it begins its economic life as wolframite ore. Last I checked, there are no wolframite ore mining operations in Texas.

Fox News prematurely claimed this law amounted to the entire State of Texas snubbing their noses at Washington, D.C. Mind you, most residents of the State of Texas are entirely capable of and willing to snub the nanny staters in Washington who dreamed up this ridiculous ban of inexpensive and safe incandescent light bulbs, but this law won’t accomplish that worthy purpose. I would be delighted to be proven wrong, but wanting an outcome doesn’t make it so.

As I outline in my new Voices of the Tea Party e-book, I, Light Bulb: A Death Row Testimonial, which will be released by Broadside Books next month, the only practical way to defeat this ridiculous ban and let Americans exercise their economic freedom to buy any light bulb they please is to put political pressure on the reluctant Republicans and defiant Democrats who refuse to repeal the ban.

Last week, I mentioned in this space that Congressman Fred Upton, the Republican who introduced the amendment to the 2007 that banned incandescents, now the Chairman of the House Energy and Commerce Committee, isn’t rushing to honor his promise to hold hearings on repealing the ban “early this Congress.”

In breaking news this afternoon, there’s some indication that the political heat behind the new Texas law has reached all the way to Washington.  HotAir reports the following conversation at a bloggers briefing:

Heritage web editor Amy Payne directed a pointed question to Congressman  [Upton]. “Will we be able to keep our light bulbs?” she asked.

Upton’s answer was cryptic, but encouraging. “That is an issue that is out there,” he said. “I’ve been working closely with [Rep.] Joe Barton [R-Tex.] and [Rep.] Mike Burgess [R-Tex.] and we’re very close to seeing an agreement merge and happen, so stay tuned. … A couple different things that we’re looking at. Just stay tuned in the next couple days, actually. Maybe a little breaking news — well, let’s just say ‘soon.’ We’ve had some good conversations and we’ll see where we are later in the week.”

This is all very encouraging, but as with the Texas law, the devil is in the details. We can promise Congressman Upton this: we will stay tuned.

Michael Patrick Leahy is the editor of the Voices of the Tea Party e-book series and co-founder of Top Conservatives on Twitter and the Nationwide Tea Party Coalition. His new  e-book, I, Light Bulb: A Death Row Testimonial, will be published in July, 2011. His new book, Covenant of Liberty, will be published by Broadside Books in spring, 2012. He can be reached on Twitter at @michaelpleahy .

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