On the shoulders of the Free Soil Party, the Republican Party emerged in the mid 19th century as a champion of human liberty.
The anti-slavery Free Soilers trumpeted their cause with a stirring cry: "Free Soil. Free Labor. Free Speech. Free Men."
Somehow, "Light Bulb Freedom of Choice" doesnt carry as inspiring a punch.
Republican Congresswoman Michele Bachmann of Minnesota introduced the Light Bulb Freedom of Choice Act because she is really mad that the energy bill that President Bush signed last year phases out the woefully inefficient conventional incandescent light bulb. Her legislation would repeal the phase-out unless three conditions are met.
One of those conditions is clearly a poison pill the phase-out must reduce U.S. carbon dioxide emissions 20% by 2025. Not a chance that will happen; the phase-out will reduce CO2 emissions less than 1% from the projected 2025 level. Phasing out incandescent bulbs is not a silver bullet, but one of many pellets of "silver buckshot" needed to push CO2 emissions down.
Nevertheless, I get what Bachmann is upset about. Its a matter of principle. On the face of it, a federal government of limited and enumerated powers shouldn't be reaching so deeply into the minutiae of our lives.
The political left is having a field day with this. The possibilities for late-night TV jokes are endless dim bulbs, how many congressmen does it take to change a light bulb, youll pull my incandescent light bulb out of my cold, dead hands, etc., etc.
Which is why I think Bachmann ought to rethink what shes doing. Fighting for freedom is a noble cause. But when you charge up freedoms hill to defend a particular type of light bulb, the cause is likely to get lost in a swamp of low comedy.
Not content to defend freedom of choice, Bachmann has fiercely attacked compact fluorescent lamps, the more efficient replacement for incandescents, as a greater pollution hazard. In so doing, she has further undermined her cause by misstating essential facts.
Yes, fluorescent lamps contain a speck of the neurotoxin mercury a necessity, given the physics of fluorescence but the speck remains sealed as long as the bulb is handled responsibly. Options for recycling spent fluorescent lights and recovering the mercury are available.
And turning on incandescent lights results in mercury pollution in an indirect way, which Bachmann has not acknowledged. Ninety percent of the electricity that goes into incandescent bulbs is thrown away as waste heat. The coal-fired power plants that produce all that wasted power release tons of mercury, which is not sealed in a glass tube and spreads hither and yon across the environment and into our bodies.
There are only three practical ways to fix the coal plant mercury problem:
Fluorescent lights are 3- to 4-times as efficient as incandescents. White LED lighting that is coming around the corner will be more efficient still.
No one should begrudge Bachmann for fighting for freedom. But she has overlooked the loss of freedom that occurs when coal plants dispose of mercury inside our bodies without our consent.
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