Lightbulb Law Repeal Fails, but Fight for Lightbulb Freedom Lives

House Republicans fail to roll back efficiency restrictions they themselves sponsored in 2007, despite libertarian outrage

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House Republicans failed last night to roll back lightbulb restrictions that have irked libertarians, small-government conservatives, and any non-environmentalist who enjoys 89-cent bulbs.

A Republicans, Rep. Fred Upton (Mich.) originally proposed the lightbulb efficiency standards along with then-Rep. Jane Harman (D-Calif.), as part of the 2007 energy bill passed by the Democratic Congress and signed by President Bush. Congressional Republicans split 96-95 against the full bill, which focused on renewables and energy savings.

Libertarians hate this. The 2007 standards would phase regular lightbulbs out of the U.S. market by 2014, requiring consumers to buy more efficient bulbs, which cost about $3, compared to less than $1 for regular lightbulbs. Sen. Rand Paul, who has crusaded against environmental standards for consumer goods, launched into a a diatribe about lightbulbs and low-flow toilets at an Energy and Natural Resources Committee hearing where Kathleen Hogan, the deputy assistant secretary for energy efficiency and the U.S. Department of Energy, testified. "You can't go around your house without being told what to buy," Paul told her. "You don't care about my choices, you don't care about the consumer, frankly. You raise the cost of all the items with all your rules, all your notions that you know what's best for me."

The backlash has been strong enough to change Upton's mind. "It was never my goal for Washington to decide what type of light bulbs Americans should use," Upton recently told The Hill newspaper. "The public response on this issue is a clear signal that markets -- not governments -- should be driving technological advancements. I will join my colleagues to vote yes on a bill to protect consumer choice and guard against federal overreach."

Rep. Joe Barton, (R-Texas), formerly the top Republican on the House Energy and Commerce Committee, last week introduced a repeal measure -- the Better Use of Light Bulbs Act, which would repeal the lightbulb provisions in the 2007 energy bill and prevent states from regulating regular-sized consumer bulbs.

Barton's bill failed last night on a 223-193 vote. It needed two-thirds majority for passage, since the vote happened under suspension of House rules -- a standard parliamentary procedure, used for non-major or non-controversial bills. All but 10 Republicans voted for it; all but five Democrats voted against it.

Upton voted for the repeal.

Republicans can bring the bill up again and pass it under normal rules, but it has little chance of advancing in the Democrat-controlled Senate.

Until conservatives can gin up some Democratic outrage at the possibility of switching to coiled, $3- and $4-lightbulbs, the libertarian crusade against bulb standards will continue.

Image credit: taberandrew/Flickr