Incandescent-bulb "ban" repeal heading for defeat?

Republicans have introduced a repeal of federal lightbulb standards in the House, which effectively ban older-style incandescent bulbs, but Democrats in the chamber have begun uniting to defeat it.  Thanks to the way the bill made it to the floor, it needs a 2/3rds majority to pass — and that looks doubtful at best:

House Democrats on Monday indicated strong opposition to a controversial bill to repeal federal lightbulb standards, which could lead to the defeat of the measure in an expected Tuesday vote.

The Better Use of Light Bulbs Act, H.R. 2417 would end federal bulb standards passed in 2007 that Republicans have since held up as a prime example of federal overreach. House Republicans brought up the bill under a suspension of the rules, which requires two-thirds of voting members to support it.

That means even though a majority might support it, it is unlikely to be approved Tuesday in light of Democratic opposition.

Suspension votes are generally reserved for non-controversial bills, although this is not the first time Republicans have risked failure by putting a bill on the suspension calendar. In February, for example, the House rejected two bills in this manner — one instructing the Obama administration to seek repayment from the United Nations, and other to extend Patriot Act surveillance authorities.

I’m not sure why the bill was introduced under a suspension of the rules.  The GOP may have wanted to rush it to the floor, as they have been attracting some heat (pun intended) over their lack of energy (yes, I’m having fun) about overturning the 2007 law.  The Hill doesn’t explain the strategy behind that decision, but the Christian Science Monitor reports that it could be added later as a rider to another bill.  The Monitor also explains the mechanics of the so-called “ban”:

Even if it does succeed, it would need to pass the Senate and be signed by the president – a very dubious prospect. It is possible, however, that the issue could reemerge as a rider to a budget bill or a bargaining chip in debt negotiations, analysts say. …

Contrary to claims frequently made by conservative talk radio, bloggers, and some news media outlets, incandescent light bulbs are not actually being “banned.” Incandescent bulbs with newer, more efficient technology will still be for sale, because the 2007 law does not single out any particular lighting technology. It only requires light bulbs to meet higher levels of efficiency if they are to be sold.

Under that law, general-purpose light bulbs must become about 30 percent more energy efficient. Different bulb classes face different deadlines, all between 2012 and 2014. The old Edison bulb gets killed on January 1, 2012. But more-efficient incandescent bulbs, which use only 72 watts to give the same output as an old 100-watt Edison bulb, will still be sold.

While Edison bulbs today are about 30-50 cents apiece, updated versions cost $1.50. But the latter pay for themselves in energy savings in about six months.

The old incandescent bulb is clearly an energy hog. Just 5 percent of the electricity it uses lights the bulb – the rest ends up as heat.

Well, this is a nitpicking fact-check from the Monitor, which normally does better work.  The standards make production and sale of cheap incandescents illegal, which is effectively a ban no matter how one gets to that position.  More efficient incandescents can still be purchased, but the lifespan of those may not be much greater than the cheaper alternatives, which means that it gets expensive to replace them.  That may save energy, but the increased costs hit those with lower incomes hardest, who may not be able to wait six months for break-even points on spending.   At least that’s better than what happens with the CFLs that green advocates have pushed as the alternative, which require hazmat abatement for disposal, thanks to the mercury used in their manufacture.

Energy Secretary Steven Chu defended the government action to remove the choice for Americans on light-bulb efficiency, saying “We are taking away a choice that continues to let people waste their own money.” I wasn’t aware that government’s role was to exercise veto power on my personal spending choices, at least not when the product itself isn’t illegal for reasons of public safety.  Neither was Mark Steyn:

I wonder if Secretary Chu has any idea how stupid this argument sounds from an administration that has wasted more of other people’s money than anybody else on the planet. Secretary Chu and his colleagues took a trillion dollars of “stimulus” and, for all the stimulating it did, might as well have given it in large bills to Charlie Sheen to snort coke off his hookers’ bellies with. (In my weekend column, I touch on only the most lurid and outrageous of the government’s many smart investment decisions: its use of stimulus dollars to stimulate the Mexican coffin industry.) …

There’s a limit to the amount of damage I can do wasting my own money. There are no limits to the damage Chu & Co can do wasting my money.

John Hinderaker notes a few of his wastes of money over the years to make a point:

I’ve wasted my money from time to time. I once bought a pair of bell-bottom jeans. I took Susie W. on a date. I bought a Cuban cigar when I was in the Caribbean. I contributed to Jimmy Carter’s presidential campaign. But I always figured that was my business–it was, after all, my money.

Bell-bottom jeans?  This man needs a government intervention! (By the way, don’t miss out on your chance to enter the Power Line $100,000 Prize — this might make a good topic.)

Are more efficient light bulbs a wiser consumer choice?  Certainly, if one can afford to make that choice.  Lean chicken is a wiser choice than ground hamburger, too, and Honda CRVs better than most GM choices in similar classes.  That doesn’t mean that we need government standards that impose those choices on free citizens.