Liberty for Light Bulbs -- The Next Battle In America's Fight for Freedom

This year, the Tea Party hopes to turn the 2012 elections into a fight for American freedom. Their first salvo -- the electric light bulb. Last month, they threatened to shut down the government unless new energy efficiency standards for light bulbs were delayed. They succeeded and the final budget deal prohibits the Deparment of Energy from spending on the new rules.

In 2007, Congress passed The Energy Independence and Security Act that included a provision authored by Republican Congressman Fred Upton giving light bulb manufacturers until 2012 to produce light bulbs that used 25 percent less energy than old-fashioned, energy wasting incandescent bulbs.

Upton's press release stated that "Current incandescent bulbs on store shelves are obsolete and highly inefficient -- only 10 percent of the energy consumed by each bulb is for light with 90 percent wasted on unnecessary heat. Today's incandescent bulbs employ the same technology as the bulbs Thomas Edison first created over 120 years ago." The bill passed in a lopsided 319-100 vote and the support of 49 percent of the Republicans who voted.

Since lighting accounts for 30 percent of all electricity use, the new standard would reduce carbon dioxide emissions by millions of tons. And we'd all breathe a little easier. Electricity generated to power our lighting threatens us all. Producing more electricity creates more pollution. More pollution creates more illness -- asthma, cancer, heart disease -- and adds greenhouse gases (many conservatives don't believe humans are responsible for global warming, but they must believe toxic chemicals cause cancer). So, almost every time each one of us turns on light in our homes, something is burning to keep it lit. More than 70 percent of the time our electricity comes from burning coal, oil or natural gas and another 20 percent comes from nuclear fission reactions.

The incandescent light bulb is partly responsible, then, for the pollution that comes from power plants. And that pollution contains mercury, fine particulate matter that causes asthma and other toxic gases such as arsenic, lead and cadmium, spewed through smokestacks. Studies show that eight percent of women of child-bearing age in this country have mercury levels in their blood that could cause lower IQ in their children. Using more efficient light bulbs is one thing we can all do to reduce energy use, and thus pollution that harms us all.

Major bulb manufacturers like General Electric, Philips and Osram Sylvania, lobbied unsuccessfully to keep the standards. Knowing that the new standards were nearing, the bulb makers created more efficient, brighter, compact fluorescent light bulbs that brighten immediately. (Older versions annoyingly brightened gradually.) The National Electrical Manufacturers Association (NEMA) -- no friend of environmental regulations argued for a consistent set of rules and accused the GOP of creating more uncertainty for the industry.

The light bulb battle isn't about dollars and cents, it's the latest talking point designed to stir up the GOP right wing base about "big government" limiting Americans' freedom by allegedly limiting their consumer choices. But the GOP and Tea Party won't acknowledge that freedoms have limits -- especially when our actions harm others. Speed limits prevent reckless driving that endangers other motorists or pedestrians; smoking bans protect non-smokers (and children) from cancer-causing second-hand smoke; we aren't allowed to throw our trash on the street; businesses can't create dangerous workplaces that injure or kill workers.

Tea Party conservatives branded the light bulb rules as just another big government intrusion in our lives. It's "them" telling "us" what to do; how to live; what we can buy; what we can't buy.

Michele Bachman introduced the Light Blub Freedom of Choice Act last year to repeal the new standards. "President Bachmann will allow you to buy any light bulb you want in the United States of America," she said after announcing her presidential bid. Bachman is today's freedom fighter -- but for whom? Or what? She said in a speech in November, "I believe in liberty for light bulbs."

Newer, more efficient light bulbs will actually save consumers $12 billion per year. And the energy standards will make new energy saving technologies like the LED bulbs that lit the new Times Square Ball that dropped on New Year's Eve become cheaper as more consumers buy them.

But even if the new standards did cost more, it would be worth the price. If they require more care to dispose of used bulbs, it'd be worth the effort. We don't have the right to pollute, poison or harm others -- whether it saves money or costs. That's not freedom and certainly not democracy.

Source: Huffington Post
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