By Christopher Bartlett
Last week, our leaders in Washington had a lot on their plate: federal debt ceiling negotiations , urgent action on job creation, the Afghanistan exit strategy… the worrying list went on. So it was astounding to see valuable time and energy diverted to the repeal of a non-controversial bill, authored by a Republican representative, passed with bipartisan support, and signed into law in 2007 by President George W. Bush.
The Energy Independence and Security Act of 2007 provided for a five year transition to January 2012 when light bulbs would need to be 25% to 30% more efficient. Its broad bipartisan support reflected the positive outcomes projected for consumers, industry, and the environment.
The Natural Resources Defense Council estimated that the planned transition would reduce the average family’s energy costs by $85 to $150 a year. Equally important, the light bulb industry supported it, arguing that it would stimulate innovation, create jobs, and keep US manufacturers competitive.
And finally, replacing a technology essentially unchanged since Edison’s time would eliminate the need for 30 large power plants. In doing so, it would reduce CO2 emissions by 100 million tons a year – equivalent to taking 17 million cars off the road.
So how did such a rare win-win-win law end up being challenged? From the public gallery, it sure looked like another case where partisan politics trumped common sense. Here’s the history.
The primary author of the 2007 law was Michigan Republican Fred Upton. At the time he boasted, “This commonsense bipartisan approach partners with American industry to save energy as well as foster the creation of new domestic manufacturing jobs.”
But while campaigning for the chairmanship of the Energy and Commerce committee in a new conservative Congress last year, he removed that statement from his website, replacing it with a new one suggesting that “markets – not governments – should be driving technological advancements.” Last week, along with all but 10 of his Republican colleagues, he voted to repeal the law he himself had authored.
To fast-track the repeal, it was introduced under “suspension of rules” which limited debate and permitted no amendments. But that fast-track condition also requires a two thirds majority to pass, and fortunately, the vote narrowly failed.
But despite the urgent agenda awaiting their attention, opposition forces regrouped, and at the end of the week added an amendment to the appropriations act to block funding for the implementation of the 2007 law. And they plan to reintroduce the repeal bill under rules requiring a simple majority.
So what are we to do when our leaders make it so hard to follow? The answer is simple: we lead from the frontlines. Fortunately, over the past five years, industry has made the change, and more efficient incandescent bulbs are widely available alongside the newer CFL and LED bulbs. Better yet, Efficiency Vermont is offering CFLs for just 99 cents at stores including Ace, True Value, and Macs.
So let’s implement our own Energy Independence Act by replacing our remaining old technology incandescent light bulbs. As a bipartisan coalition in Congress recognized in 2007, it’s just common sense.
By Christopher Bartlett