In the trillion-dollar budget deal Congressional leaders revealed Tuesday, Republicans didn’t press to defund the Environmental Protection Agency’s climate change rules. But they did uphold one of the most boneheaded anti-government riders of the last decade.
Some quick background: The United States wastes astounding amounts of electricity on light bulbs. The Energy Department figures that American homes spend about 10 percent of their electricity bills on lighting, and households that use old, Edison-era incandescents convert less than 10 percent of the electricity they buy for their bulbs into light. The rest uselessly dissipates as heat.
Though households quickly save money on energy bills when they buy more expensive bulbs that waste less power and last longer, Americans for years didn’t push the transition forward absent a government nudge. This left hefty national savings on the table, as well as a surprisingly large environmental dividend. The EPA calculates that every incandescent bulb switched for a more efficient compact fluorescent bulb saves about 84 pounds in carbon dioxide emissions every year. The Energy Department figures that a transition to super-efficient LED bulbs by 2027 would save about 44 large power plants’ worth of electricity (h/t Brad Plumer).
So Congress passed some simple light bulb efficiency standards in 2007. Lawmakers didn’t ban incandescent bulbs. Instead they demanded that bulbs produced in or imported into the U.S. use no more than a certain amount of electricity to produce a certain amount of light. If manufacturers could make incandescents less wasteful, they could produce the improved bulbs freely. One result has been a boom in the commercialization of new lighting technologies that could save Americans some $6 billion next year.
Another result was an upsurge in counterproductive ideological fuming from the right: In a different budget compromise passed earlier this year, Republicans added a rider prohibiting the Energy Department from enforcing the bulb standards.
Nuts, it’s not even fun to go after people who beclown themselves so thoroughly…