Guest Editorial: An irrational war against modern, greener lightbulbs

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This editoral is from the Washington Post:

Of all the counterproductive policy campaigns conservatives have waged in recent years, among the most irrational has been their war on the federal government’s efforts to update the lightbulb.

Swapping out all the old incandescent bulbs across the country would save an astonishing amount of energy, which would translate into big savings for consumers and less pollution over time. But Republicans stymied the Obama administration’s efforts to pursue this policy, which has no downside, and the Trump administration is now using its power over federal efficiency standards to extend the rollback.

Twenty years ago, the common lightbulb was little different from the incandescent bulb that Thomas Edison invented. It was extremely cheap but wasted a lot of electricity in heat and burned out quickly. With compact fluorescent bulbs available and light-emitting diode, or LED, technology on the marketable horizon, Congress in 2007 mandated a long-overdue shift toward better bulbs.

As bulbmakers invested in manufacturing lights that use these updated technologies, prices dropped. Though the initial stages of the transition elicited complaints that compact fluorescent bulbs took a while to turn on and did not emit the same quality of light as the old incandescents, newer bulbs, particularly LEDs, turn on instantly and give off light of any shade — or, among some popular brands, any color. Consumers’ initial investment in more expensive bulbs pays off in lower electricity bills, as the new ones gobble up far less and shine for years.

All of this has happened despite Republicans denying the Obama administration the ability to set new efficiency standards under the 2007 law. That progress has come about because the law contains a backstop provision demanding minimum levels of efficiency from commonly sold bulbs, starting in 2020. On its way out the door, President Barack Obama’s Energy Department managed to get one additional rule on the books that would expand on the progress, insisting that along with the most common residential lights, bulbs for candelabras, recessed lighting, heavy-duty applications and others also be subject to the 2020 minimum standards.

This is the rule that the Trump administration is moving to eliminate, despite the fact that the 2020 standards would have saved consumers billions of dollars per year and 140 billion kilowatt-hours in energy waste — the equivalent to the output of 45 coal-fired power plants — in 2025, according to the Appliance Standards Awareness Project, which advocates stiffer efficiency programs.

Exempting candelabra and other lights from the 2020 standard could cut roughly in half the number of bulbs that would be required to use better technology, research from the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory suggests. The Appliance Standards Awareness Project estimates that the change would cost consumers an additional $12 billion per year in 2025. And painless emissions cuts would be left on the table.

There is speculation that the Trump administration will attempt to roll back the 2020 standards further in coming months, even though it would hardly seem legal.

There is no excuse for unnecessary energy waste and every reason for the federal government to coordinate a move toward better bulbs. The Trump administration should halt its know-nothing rollback.

Many Americans let out a sigh of relief when a disgruntled President Donald Trump signed a bill to fund the government through the rest of the fiscal year, ending the specter of another damaging shutdown.

Trump was dissatisfied with the deal, which provided far less money for border barriers than he had sought, and nearly refused to sign, according to reports. Trump only relented when Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell agreed to support Trump’s unwise decision to declare a national emergency to fund a border wall.

This fiasco — a 35-day government shutdown that hurt hundreds of thousands of people and cost the U.S. economy as much as $11 billion — should end America’s tolerance for shutdown politics.

Indeed, many lawmakers are trying to find ways to disarm this tactic and ensure that the threat of a shutdown can no longer be used to try to wring policy concessions from the other party.

Even Republicans — the party responsible for most recent shutdowns, including one in 2013 over funding the Affordable Care Act — seem to have lost their taste for this approach after they bore the brunt of the blame during the latest shutdown.

Both Republicans and Democrats have introduced legislation that would prevent or discourage future shutdowns through various mechanisms.

Sen. Mark Warner, D-Virginia, may win the prize for the best bill title — “Stop Shutdowns Transferring Unnecessary Pain and Inflicting Damage in the Coming Years Act,” or the Stop STUPIDITY Act.

Warner’s bill would automatically fund government at current levels, except for the legislative branch and the office of the president, when agreement on a new funding bill can’t be reached.

Several other bills take similar approaches.

Government shutdowns — there have been 21 since 1976 — are essentially an exercise in hostage-taking. One party threatens to purposefully harm the country to win a policy argument outside the normal legislative process. They would deny pay to hundreds of thousands of federal employees and contractors while risking both national security and public safety in numerous ways.

The same can be said for brinkmanship over increasing the debt ceiling — a game Republicans played during the Obama presidency.

Finding legislative solutions to disarm this threat is a good idea, and we hope Congress does so. Some warn that automatic continuing resolutions, if not set up properly, could allow congressional Republicans to institute severe budget cuts without votes. Unless the continuing resolutions account for both inflation and increased population, the practical result would be significant loss of funding for essential programs.

Others worry that this approach would take pressure off Congress and the president to actually reach full-year funding agreements, heightening budgeting uncertainty.

California’s requirement for a two-thirds legislative majority to pass a budget led to many crises and shutdowns until voters rescinded it with Proposition 25 in 2010. A federal legislative fix won’t be as simple, but finding one is important.

The Democrats’ refusal to negotiate during the shutdown was prudent only if they’re ready to break the cycle. Negotiating with hostage-takers guarantees more hostages will be threatened.

The damage and dangers of shutdowns are too severe to take chances, especially under a president willing to buck traditional leadership norms to achieve his churlish agenda.

You can send a letter to the editor at letters@pressdemocrat.com

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