Friday, December 16, 2011

A minor victory for the GOP's dimmest bulbs

Score one for the Tea Party: it's temporarily staved off the incoming regulations that would have phased out incandescent light bulbs in favor of more energy-efficient incarnations:
The traditional incandescent light bulb won a nine-month reprieve late Thursday from new federal rules that would have led to its demise.

The deal to avert a government shutdown starting Friday night includes a provision that prevents the Department of Energy from spending any money to implement or enforce the energy efficiency standards for light bulbs that is set to start going into effect for 100-watt bulbs in 2012.
From a certain perspective, this isn't that big of a deal. The delay is temporary, the regulations only speed a process that would probably occur anyway, and the meaningful impact of a later start date on the environment is probably pretty low. There are Democratic concessions worth getting angry about, and this isn't one of them.

Which isn't to say that you shouldn't get angry at Republicans for just being so unbelievably petulant all the time. It's hard to think of a simple issue that better illustrates the great gaping ideological void at the heart of the Republican Party than the Light Bulb Kerfuffle of 2011.

Here what's incredible about the light bulb "debate": unlike virtually any other environmental issue, manufacturers and environmentalists are on the same side. The light bulb industry supports the new standards! Now, obviously, the manufacturers aren't being driven by altruism. The new bulbs are more expensive, and I expect their manufacturers see the potential for higher profits when the new standards are adopted. But consumer don't lose: they save money over the long run, by reducing energy costs. It's win-win, unless you're the power company.

The predictable conservative rejoinder is that market forces would resolve the problem eventually, as consumers opted for new bulbs. But why wait? There are plenty of obstacles to an efficient market solution here, as energy efficient bulbs will be sitting on the shelf next to cheaper incandescents, while the long-term savings are hidden away on electric bills. There's every reason to expect that widespread adoption by the market would take a long time, and no particular pragmatic reason to oppose government action to speed that process. And frankly, it's such a small thing. These regulations are totally bog-standard. They don't disrupt the economy. They don't meaningfully expand the regulatory power of the federal government. They're just a small step towards solving a very serious problem.

Not that I've seen very many attempts to mount a good-faith argument against the regulations. As best as I can tell -- and admittedly, I don't hang out with the kind of imbecile that gets tremendously worked up over common-sense attempts to increase energy efficiency -- opposition to these regulations arises from the same fearful adoration of the status quo that drives all reactionaries. Republican concerns seem to be less about what's being done -- "Oh no, our light bulbs are being replaced with slightly better light bulbs!" -- and more about who is doing it; namely, Obama, and the dreaded environmentalists. Oh, it's possible that their brave stand against energy efficiency is the product of short-sighted adherence to first principles, but if we're being completely honest, it's hard not to think that the only principle illuminated here is the GOP's principled opposition to anything supported by one of the many, many groups it fears and loathes.

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