Friday, March 16, 2007

Harman Introduces Lighting Requirements Bill

As she describes it:
As California-and Australia and Europe-goes, so (should) go the nation. That's why it's time for the country to phase out inefficient energy-consuming light-bulbs.

Small idea. Big impact.

Today, I introduced a bill to require all light bulbs produced or used in the U.S. to meet current fluorescent bulb standards (60 lumens per watt) by 2012, 90 lumens by 2016, and 120 by 2020.

This is well intentioned and Rep. Jane Harman is quite right to want to do something about reducing energy used for lighting. I like the instict to try to address the problem. But it falls short of what's needed.

What's going to be accomplished by this mandate that kicks in five years down the road? Nothing's required to change in the mean time, and industry lobbyists will have five years to influence lawmakers to see the "impossibility" of complying with the mandate, as they did for the no-emission vehicle requirement.

Florescent lightbulbs are not without a significant environmental downside -- they contain mercury which is released when they break. But certainly the Home Depots of the world would be able to deal with the end-of-product-life question in return for the government greatly expand this market, as they will benefit handsomely from it. Retailers could be required to educate consumers about the mercury issue and give them real options to properly dispose of their used florescent bulbs. Given the option of driving an hour to a hazardous waste dump or tossing the bulb in the trash, what do you think most people would do? Retailers who profit from this expanding market should not be let off the hook for the environmental impacts of their products.

Not a simple issue - but focus and forethought in addressing it now can allow government to promote compact florescent use and save lots of energy today. The lumens per watt standard is a great idea, and other types of bulbs should be able to qualify if they are energy efficient enough. I appreciate how tough it is to decide how long to give manufacturers before imposing a mandate. They will have a good case that they need time to comply before being potentially entirely shut out of the American market for most lighting. And when the deadline approaches and manufacturers whine and moan and apply the pressure of their well-paid lobbyists, it will be exceedingly tough for congress to follow through.

Let me suggest an alternative solution: congress could use a more market driven solution and impose a tax on energy-hogging bulbs and use those funds to discount the price of energy-efficient bulbs. So manufacturers wouldn't be shut out of the market as under the mandate scenario. And consumers would probably prefer to have the freedom of choice, even if they never opt to pay the steep premium for an energy-hogging bulb. And finally, using financial incentives and disincentives instead of a mandate is in keeping with the other market-based elements of this proposal.

Hopefully the bill can be reworked to make change happen in the near term, not just theoretically down the road (a la Schwarzenggar's/Bush's hyping of the hydrogen car).


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