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 .