Fred Upton Shows Us How Not to Repeal the Light Bulb Ban

By: Michael_Patrick_LeahyJuly 08, 2011

On Wednesday of this week, Congressman  Joe Barton introduced the “Better Use of Light Bulbs Act,” HR 2417 , in Chairman Fred Upton’s House Energy and Commerce Committee, for the purpose of repealing the light bulb ban. You can read the bill here.

The rushed manner in which this bill is being brought to the floor of the House, however, is reminiscent of the “rush to legislation” that characterized the Stimulus and Obamacare legislation passed in Nancy Pelosi’s 111th Congress. Depending on what press report you read, the bill — after some possible last minute behind the scenes “deals” — will be introduced on to the floor of the House for a vote as early as Monday of next week — July 11. Upton’s plan is to skip public committee hearings and deliver the bill for a complete up or down vote to the entire House.

Section 2 of the bill repeals the offending sections of the Energy Independence and Security Act of 2007 that established energy standards that effectively banned the current generation of incandescent light bulbs.

So far, so good.

Sections 3 and 4 are troublesome, however, and give opponents arguments to oppose the bill.

Section 3 states that “No Federal, State, or local requirement or standard regarding energy efficient lighting shall be effective to the extent that the requirement or standard can be satisfied only by installing or using lamps containing mercury.” This reads to me that Congress is attacking the mercury laden CFL bulbs. The point of the individual economic choice guaranteed in the Constitution, however, is that Congress ought not to favor CFLs over incandescents, just as it ought not to favor incandescents over CFLs. I’m no fan of CFL bulbs personally, but look for CFL manufacturers like GE to make this argument against the bill at every opportunity.

Section 4 of the Act is designed to repeal the light bulb efficiency standards in effect in the State of California since January 1 of this year. The standards are essentially the federal standards that will go into effect January 1, 2012, but moved up a year. While I personally question the legal status of these very specific rules promulgated by the California Energy Commission based on a vague and non-specific 2007 California statute, it seems to me that there are serious Constitutional questions surrounding a Federal law prohibiting a State to establish its own product efficiency standards. While a good argument can be made that the Commerce Clause grants Congress the right to repeal California state regulations, a reasonable argument could be made by opponents of the bill that Congress can’t do this because the state of California is merely establishing local standards, which is its right.

Given these concerns about Sections 3 and 4, what purpose does it serve to include them in the bill? Both raise potential objections to the passage of the bill on the floor of the House if it comes to a vote this week.

A full and open discussion of these issues in public hearings held by the House Energy and Commerce Committee would have been the right way to begin a legislative process that would have identified and addressed these potential objections. That’s the course that a Committee Chairman seriously committed to repealing the light bulb ban would have taken. Instead, Chairman Upton has followed this secretive, behind closed doors, last minute rushed vote approach.

If the House votes this Monday on the version of HR 2417 posted online Wednesday, it will barely meet the 72 hour tranparency standard Speaker Boehner and the House Rules Committee committed to back in January. We don’t know now if it will be that version, or some other version set forward for a vote.

Why be so sneaky?

The secretive nature of the process by which the content of the bill has been determined, combined with the lack of notice for when a House vote will be held has effectively removed the vast network of grassroots support for repeal from the political equation.

Why would someone who supports repeal of the ban act in a way that fails to take advantage of such widespread support? If the bill passes the House, it will need every bit of political support it can muster. The 53-47 Democratic majority of the Senate will be tough to win over, and President Obama’s signature on the bill–if it reaches his desk before the ban on the current generation of 100 watt incandescent light bulbs goes into effect on January 1, 2012–is highly unlikely.

As I argue in my new Voices of the Tea Party e-book, I, Light Bulb: A Death Row Testimonial, the case for repealing this ill advised ban on the current generation of incandescent light bulbs is so compelling that a full and complete airing of the arguments for and against will inevitably lead to its repeal in a country that still believes in free markets. The only people who would oppose such an approach would be those who don’t really believe in free markets. Those would be the same kind of people who passed the ban in the first place.

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 .

31 Responses to Fred Upton Shows Us How Not to Repeal the Light Bulb Ban

  1. John says:

    Why can’t they just repeal the light bulb ban part and quit there?

    Every time the Congress makes a law its a joke and every time they make a joke its a law.

  2. Brett says:

    “No Federal, State, or local requirement or standard regarding energy efficient lighting shall be effective to the extent that the requirement or standard can be satisfied only by installing or using lamps containing mercury.”

    This reads to me as banning further de facto incandescent bulb bans via efficiency standards. It doesn’t read as a ban on CFL bulbs at all.

  3. Brett,

    I think your reading may well be correct. However, lack of clarity over the meaning of this particular section points to another reason why its inclusion in the bill simply clutters the simple intent of repealing the ban on the current generation of incandescents. This is one reason why public hearings are usually held on legislation.

  4. teapartydoc says:

    The way I read it: government cannot set an energy standard that can only be met by CFL’s.
    This was the way in which the light bulb ban was enacted in the first place and is the exact type of language needed to repeal it. I think you may have jumped the gun on this one.

    • JB says:

      Problem is, that section would become worthless if there’s ever a substitute for mercury in the CFLs. It would also leave the door open to require LED bulbs instead of CFLs.

  5. Lhogan says:

    Just repel the original law. Simple. Don’t make the mistake of enacting another.

  6. Larry Brantingham says:

    The clause says that government can define an efficiency standard that can be met by light emitting devices other than CFLs, for example, LEDs. If so, incandescent bulbs can still be effectively banned. The writers may have felt that the safety hazards of mercury are a necessary hook – after all, we supinely accept government standards on car fuel efficiency that make a far greater difference in cost and function than the bulb ban. What’s needed is laws to get the government out of all these areas.

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  8. TeaPartyDoc,

    Sections 321 and 322 of the 2007 Energy Independence and Security Act didn’t spell out the technology that could or could not be used, it simply set a standard that could not be met by the current inexpensive generation of incandescents.

    Your argument merely emphasizes the benefits that would have come from open public hearings on the bill, at which lighting experts, manufacturers, and others could have testified on the merits of this section.

    For instance, Section 3 says:

    “the requirement or standard can be satisfied only by installing or using lamps containing mercury.”

    As it turns out, the standard in the 2007 law that will go into effect January 1, 2011 that will ban the current generation of 100 watt incandescents will be met not only by mercury containing CFLs, but also by LEDs, as well as more expensive incandescents that are now on the market–though not widely distributed or promoted.

  9. jocon307 says:

    Fred Upton has the worst staff in Washington. I’ve called his office several times about this issue and they are able to give almost no information about it.

    I think that most people do not realize that 100 watt light bulbs are about to become illegal.

    Upton is a dunce and a menace, he should never have been given this chairmanship.

  10. jaybird says:

    LEDs are made out of Arsenic and lead. http://californiawatch.org/dailyreport/uc-researchers-led-lights-contain-lead-arsenic-8634

    Why are arsenic, lead and mercury so environmentally friendly? There must have been “campaign contributions” involved. There should be an investigation of lobbyist activity and bribes/contributions to Congress to get the inexpensive bulbs banned in the first place, so that manufacturers can sell very expensive bulbs that people can’t even see with.

    Why not make electric home heating illegal? The very small amount of bulb heat is nothing compared to the power needed for electric heating of a home, store or office building. Why not ban microwaves and toasters? Or big-screen TVs? They use much more power than light bulbs.

    The lightbulb ban is so goofy, and so beneficial to CFL manufacturers, that it should be investigated by a special prosecutor and grand jury.

  11. NikFromNYC says:

    Note that the two Republican front runners have opposing views on global warming with Bachmann being very passionate about artificial energy rationing:

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=O-XW8oKyQhc

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=xs0L42Ip5a4

    The LA Times featured cold fusion in ’89 before its debunking. Greens were aghast!
    “It’s like giving a machine gun to an idiot child.” – Paul Ehrlich (mentor of John Cook of the SkepticalScience blog, author of “Climate Change Denial”)
    “Clean-burning, non-polluting, hydrogen-using bulldozers still could knock down trees or build housing developments on farmland.” – Paul Ciotti (LA Times)
    “It gives some people the false hope that there are no limits to growth and no environmental price to be paid by having unlimited sources of energy.” – Jeremy Rifkin (NY Times)
    “Many people assume that cheaper, more abundant energy will mean that mankind is better off, but there is no evidence for that.” – Laura Nader (sister of Ralph)

    CLIMATEGATE 101: “For your eyes only…Don’t leave stuff lying around on ftp sites – you never know who is trawling them. The two MMs have been after the CRU station data for years. If they ever hear there is a Freedom of Information Act now in the UK, I think I’ll delete the file rather than send to anyone….Tom Wigley has sent me a worried email when he heard about it – thought people could ask him for his model code. He has retired officially from UEA so he can hide behind that.” – Phil “Hide The Decline” Jones to Michael “Hockey Stick” Mann

    Here I present A Global Warming Digest:
    Denial: http://i.min.us/ibyADs.jpg
    Oceans: http://k.min.us/idAw6Y.gif
    NASA: http://i.min.us/idFxzI.jpg
    Thermometers: http://i.min.us/idAOoE.gif
    Earth: http://k.min.us/ibtB8G.gif
    Ice: http://k.min.us/ibBgw2.jpg
    Authority: http://k.min.us/iby6xe.gif
    Prophecy: http://i.min.us/idEHdo.jpg
    Psychopathy: http://i.min.us/ibubmk.jpg
    Icon: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=tmPzLzj-3XY
    Thinker: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=n92YenWfz0Y

    -=NikFromNYC=- Ph.D. in Carbon Chemistry (Columbia/Harvard)

  12. Marty says:

    These congressmen just cannot leave well enough alone, and every time they try to fix a problem they just create several more… plus they don’t even fix the original problem.

    Just cure the error and leave the rest alone.

    These power-drunk people actually think they’re smart or something, despite ample proof that they aren’t.

  13. rich Vail says:

    Re 1 above: they can’t simply repeal the CFL portion of the legislation because you can’t be a good Congressman unless you add 3,000+ pages of crap…that you neither understand, nor have read, in order to pass hurried legislation.

    That being said, why do we have a full-time Congress in the first place? They don’t do much but, stick their heads into areas the federal government no place being in the first place…that being said how about this:

    I hereby propose the following as the 28th Amendment to the United States Constitution.

    1. No citizen of the United States shall be elected to the House of Representatives to more than four (4) consecutive, two (2) year terms to office.
    2. No citizen of the United States shall be elected to the United States Senate for more than two (2) consecutive, six (6) year terms of office.
    3. No citizen of the United States shall receive any retirement benefits from serving in either the United States House of Representatives or the United States Senate.
    4. Congress shall not exempt itself from any laws of the United States of America, in whole or in part.
    5. Congress shall be in session for a period of not less than 90 60 consecutive days in the Spring, and 60 consecutive days in the Summer and Fall of each year. Each sitting of Congress may be extended by the President for a period not to exceed 15 days. The Spring session shall start on the first Monday of March. The Summer Fall session shall begin on the first Monday in August. An additional 15 day session to begin on the 2nd Monday of November shall may be called by the President if so deemed necessary by declaration of a national emergency and voted so by a 2/3rds majority of the sitting Congress and may not be extended. {This section I think is necessary to basically force Congress to actually work…in the past decade they generally only spend 2 1/2 days per week actually working in Washington, DC. Most often only from Tues afternoon to Thurs afternoon!}

    Every single state (and the federal government isn’t any different) that has a full-time legislature is in deep financial trouble. Every legislator is so busy trying to justify his time in Congress/state house, that he/she/it continueally introduce bullsh*t bills…and they are collectively ignoring what’s important. Just look at California, New York, et al…they’re all sinking fast, and I suspect strongly the Democratic majorities expect the Federal Gov’t to bail them out as they did, GM and the banks.

    Most of those states that only have part-time legislatures, that meet at most once per year (some every 2 years) are for the most part financially solvent (Minn excepted). If we limit the time Congress meets, as well as the “perks” then perhaps we can get people into office who will do their jobs…THEN GO HOME just as the “founders” intended…citizen legislators, NOT professional pol’s.

    Rich Vail
    Pikesville, Maryland
    The Vail Spot dot Blogspot dot Com

    • jocon307 says:

      Rich Vail I applaud you!

      At least you understand that the Constitution must be amended to have term limits. For the many, many, many who don’t recall the Gingrich congress did pass it (as part of the Contract with America), but the SCOTUS struck it down.

      I also very much like that you have removed pensions for them, that is important. Evidently we’ve done this in NJ, so if you can do that in NJ, you can do it anywhere! No elected official should receive any post-office publicly funded benefits, with the possible exception of Secret Service protection for past presidents. No pension, no health care, no nothing. Of course it would be up to states and municipalities to enact this for themselves, but I think it should be done at all levels. There could be 401(k)s that they themselves can contribute to, but that’s it.

      That alone will achieve a lot of term limiting.

      I did not read the rest of you amendment closely, but it seems to me it is a good start.

      The most important thing, everybody, is that we keep paying attention.

      THAT is what the TEA Party is all about.

      We’ve made a good start, but let us not tire, let us not falter, let us not go wobbly now.

      We’ve only got one election cycle under our belts.

      We better plan on working for about 50 years. I’ll be dead by then, but hopefully this movement will catch on and we’ll once again be SELF governing.

  14. NoNameWorks says:

    Like lhogan@ 12:06.

    Repeal the whole bill that started this and then start over from scracth if there was anything worthwhile (I doubt it) in the orginal cluttered bill.

    When Congress and the administration — whoever they are — learn to stop micromanaging America we will all be better off; our health and our economy.

  15. Hrothgar says:

    Never repeal any legislation previously passed (no matter how misguided or stupid)!
    This would be disrespectful, and our predecessors must have had good reasons for their wise decisions. As a bonus, a whole new bunch of lawyers and staffers can try to insert some new stupidity into the new modifying legislation, while being paid with public dollars of course.

  16. 11B40 says:

    Greetings:

    If I may add a couple of my own peeves about our leftist statist government’s attempt to “lead” us into their new light, light has color and light has volume and the new, better, state-approved bulbs fail on both counts.

    Color-wise, tungsten bulbs provide a “warm” light on the reddish end of the spectrum. It is the warmth of the home-fire not the blue brilliance of the modern workplace. “Relax,” tungsten light says, you’ve returned from the day’s struggles. Feel my warmth.”

    Additionally, the current crop of fluorescents fail volume wise. I’m of an age where the volume and variability of a three-way 50-100-150 watt tungsten is much appreciated especially for a long evening of reading.

    Those asserting that the fluorescents are superior remind me of Winston Churchill’s caveat about a fanatic being one who can’t change his mind and won’t change the subject.

  17. sayyid says:

    “it seems to me that there are serious Constitutional questions surrounding a Federal law prohibiting a State to establish its own product efficiency standards”

    Nope, not at all under our current commerce clause jurisprudence. Supremacy clause + commerce clause. Light bulb purchases are definitely “economic activity” and a state’s choices about what kind to allow its people use has a “substantial effect” on interstate commerce.

    In fact, a pretty strong argument can be made that these sorts of regulations are backdoor trade restrictions between states – the exact sort of thing that the Constitution and the commerce clause were designed to prevent.

    Section 3, for the record, does nothing to favor incandescent bulbs. It prohibits governments from discriminating in favor of mercury-containing bulbs. Specifically, it puts a cap on the highest efficiency standard that any government or government agency can put in place. If the government cannot find a non-mercury bulb that can meet the standard, the standard has to be reduced until there is one.

    I’m not sure that this provision actually “works” to do much of anything as it’s drafted, though. Its language literally means that if you can track down a single non-mercury lamp that meets the standard, then the standard is OK. Aren’t there a lot of non-incandescent non-CFL lights that have high energy efficiency too? If I recall, there are LED lights that could meet this, but they’re either stupidly expensive or have poor lighting quality. But once the proponent of the ban tracks one down, that’s “lights out” for our consumers anyway.

  18. KISS says:

    Here’s a thought. Why not just simply state that any and all lighting efficiency standards contained in any U.S. statute or regulation are hereby repealed and shall no longer have any legal effect? This gets the federal government out of the lighting business. If state or local governments want to sabotage their particular citizenry, that’s their business. And, under the U.S. Constitution, their right.

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  20. rk says:

    You have to consider where Upton is coming from. I looked up his National Journal scores. In 2004 his Conservative-Economic score was 51 percent. You can’t get more moderate than that without being a Dem. He tends to be conservative on “social” issues. But since then, he’s worked diligently to appear more conservative…and by 2010 he was way up to the nose-bleed level of 72.

    So this doesn’t surprise me. His heart is with the ban. There are major forces (Enviors and Manufacturers) who support the ban…and I’m sure they have lobbyists courting him at least weekly. I mean, really…look at it from GE’s point of view. They already shut down the old plants, gotten their infrastructure up in China…they’ve already done the work. The last thing they want is some pipsqueak from MI to throw a wrench in it.

    So when this fails…Upton can say “I tried”

  21. Bill Beeman says:

    Section 3 is too clever by half. Note that LED lamps are coming on the market, although at very high cost. So a ban on mercury containing lamps accomplishes nothing toward keeping our lamp cost at a reasonable lever ($40 for a 60 watt replacement, anyone?). A new efficiency standard could leave one with only LED lamps as an option.

    The real solution is to let the market sort it out, and for the government to mind its own knitting.

  22. J. W. says:

    Mr. Leahy, thank you for calling attention to this:

    “No Federal, State, or local requirement or standard regarding energy efficient lighting shall be effective to the extent that the requirement or standard can be satisfied only by installing or using lamps containing mercury.”

    This flies in the face of federalism. State and local legislatures shouldn’t pass ridiculous laws, but it’s not the federal legislature’s business to pass a law that says that they can’t.

    Moreover, I agree with you about the vague phrasing. The word “only” should (if one wanted to get the “right” meaning across) appear *after* the words “installing or using.” As it is, one may interpret it to mean that a law resulting in someone having to use even just one mercury-containing lamp renders a law ineffective.

    Upton is handling all of this very poorly–on purpose, I bet. In any case, I hope that he gets primaried.

    • Jhn1 says:

      I have talked to a couple of tea party guys in his district (Gobles, Mi), and the primary challenge is on the way. It won’t be deflected by any last minute “I have finally seen the light” proclamations on Fred;’s part (this time)

  23. Jhn1 says:

    Section 3 is defunct. D.O.A.
    The current standards can be met with some halogen, or fluorescent, or CFL, or LED lights.

  24. Tom Perkins says:

    ” “No Federal, State, or local requirement or standard regarding energy efficient lighting shall be effective to the extent that the requirement or standard can be satisfied only by installing or using lamps containing mercury.”

    This reads to me that Congress is attacking the mercury laden CFL bulbs. ”

    Read it again then, the bill doesn’t attack them, it says they can’t be mandated.

    ” “Section 4 of the Act is designed to repeal the light bulb efficiency standards in effect in the State of California since January 1 of this year. The standards are essentially the federal standards that will go into effect January 1, 2012, but moved up a year. While I personally question the legal status of these very specific rules promulgated by the California Energy Commission based on a vague and non-specific 2007 California statute, it seems to me that there are serious Constitutional questions surrounding a Federal law prohibiting a State to establish its own product efficiency standards. While a good argument can be made that the Commerce Clause grants Congress the right to repeal California state regulations, a reasonable argument could be made by opponents of the bill that Congress can’t do this because the state of California is merely establishing local standards, which is its right. ”

    Want to overturn Wickard V Filburn? Go for it. For now this seems to me like Congress prohibiting state interference in interstate commerce, and constitutionally kosher.

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  26. Tom,

    I think your statement “For now this seems to me like Congress prohibiting state interference in interstate commerce, and constitutionally kosher” is probably correct.

    However, my point was that Section 4 of the Better Use of Light Bulbs Act unnecessarily bring a potential Constitutional argument against the bill into the equation.

    I’ve talked to a few Constitutional experts on this issue. Most agree with your interpretation. However, some suggest that a valid argument could be made that Congress cannot prohibit states from establishing local use standards, and Section 4 could arguably be interpreted that way.

  27. peterdub says:

    RE California

    The multiple lack of logic in a ban:

    The massive CFL subsidy programs leading up to the ban in California,
    reprtedly have brought a “high CFL uptake”, which coupled with “coming great LEDs” that “people will like”, would obviously make a ban on the fewer and fewer remaining incandescents more and more meaningless.

    Compare with radio tubes (valves) and transistors: There is, and was, no need to ban “energy guzzling” radio tubes for the appreciated limited remaining uses they have – similar then applies to incandescents, in any remaining advantageous and appreciated use.

    Conversely of course, if people keep preferring simple incandescents, it again seems rather odd to ban them,
    given that simple incandescents do indeed have unique useful characteristics also in comparison with (temporarily) allowed energy efficient incandescent halogen etc alternatives, apart from being much cheaper.

    Heads regulations lose – tails regulations lose.

    That’s not all:
    While MARKET competition is better in satisfying demand also of energy saving products (which people have always bought and can be properly marketed eg Energizer battery bunnies and the like, “expensive to buy but cheap in the long run”),

    TAX is an obvious alternative on Californian (and US federal) liberal ideology,
    such that a tax on popular but energy using cars, building, bulbs etc can also finance cheaper energy saving alternatives, so that “people are not just hit by taxes”, markets are equilibrated, and Budget Deficits are spared.

    That said, stimulated competition on open markets (support for market launch of new inventions etc, local job creation) remains a better way, if light bulbs must be targeted,
    as covered in an essay on http://ceolas.net/#li23x
    = Light Bulb Competition and Taxation policies compared to Regulation.

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