There's a race on to determine which Republican will chair the House Energy and Commerce Committee for the next two years.
A critical issue has emerged in the race - light bulbs. That's right. Talk radio jabberwockies and their camp followers in Congress are tossing and turning at night, consumed with anguish about the phaseout of the conventional incandescent light bulb, which was written into the energy legislation that Congress passed and then-President George W. Bush signed into law in 2007.
One of the chairman candidates is Joe Barton, the Texan who wants to bend House Republican rules against overstaying one's turn at the gavel and muscle aside the leading candidate, Michigan's Fred Upton.
Upton has been taken to task for backing the incandescent bulb phaseout, an energy efficiency measure that starts with 100-watt bulbs in 2012 and finishes with 60-watt and 40-watt models in 2014. To be precise, not all incandescents will go away. Incandescents that meet the law's efficiency standards will be on the market for general lighting uses. And regardless of their efficiency, incandescents will remain on the market for lighting applications for which there aren't practical alternatives, such as appliance lamps, bug lights, and some traffic signals.
Anyway, the incandescent phaseout has caused temple veins to throb among screamers in the libertarian set, who insist that Americans have the right to waste as much energy as they please. That's a defensible proposition, as long as you don't mind imposing air pollution on unconsenting lungs, sending money to petro-dictators, and putting young relatives in harm's way to make the world safe for petroleum supply lines.
Barton, however, has taken the jihad against the incandescent phaseout into the alternative reality once described by George H.W. Bush as voodoo economics.
Barton says "the cost-benefit of the incandescent bulb offsets any theoretical savings of the more expensive bulbs." If so, Barton should inform his neighbors at TXU Energy, a utility and leading supplier of Texas' retail electricity market. On its online energy store, TXU is flogging compact fluorescent lights as a more economical alternative to incandescent bulbs.
"Though incandescent light bulbs seem cheaper at the store, they'll actually hit your wallet harder in the long run," TXU helpfully informs consumers on the store's website. A nifty graphic shows that one compact fluorescent bulb costing $13 will last as long as eight incandescent bulbs costing a total of $50. Plus, the fluorescents yield three to four times as much lighting per watt-hour of electrical energy consumed as incandescents.
Incandescents are less efficient because much of their energy output is in the form of waste heat, which is not a good thing to add to a home interior during the middle of a Texas summer.
But honestly, folks. The Energy and Commerce Committee will have much bigger fish to fry next year. The big issues of energy security and the energy technology race are not going away, even if climate legislation is likely to be a non-starter.
On the other hand, if Barton gets the chairman's gavel that he's craving and wants to spend time obsessing over light bulbs, then he will have that much less time to cause greater mischief.
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