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House GOP Dim Bulbs’ Bright Idea? Raise Your Utility Bill

A dim bulb (Photo: Wheany, Flickr)

With so many atrocious things happening in Congress — and necessary things not happening —  it may seem odd to focus on a relatively minor provision in the omnibus spending bill that defunds a small program at the Department of Energy.

But the dim bulbs in the House and their Tea Party followers deserve attention for insisting on a measure that will raise your monthly utility bills, enrich coal and gas companies and increase global pollution.  You have to be exceptionally stupid to accomplish all that.

From Politico and ThinkProgess we learn that the tea party zealots in the GOP House demanded that we not keep the government functioning unless the omnibus spending bill deleted this fiscal year’s funding for DOE to implement its new energy efficiency standard for light bulbs.

The standard has already been adopted and was set to go into effect in January.  It requires that new bulbs be 30 percent more efficient than the typical incandescent bulbs from the last century.  And the standard is supported by the industry, which is already producing complying products and is all set to market them — and make money.  In other words, people’s jobs are based on this standard.

This is just another “performance” standard of the kind that regulators — including my former energy agency — began to use back in the 1980s.  Affected industries preferred performance standards to prescriptive standards.  The agency adopting the standard defines some baseline of energy performance that is both technically feasible with current technology and economically justified — “cost effective.”  That usually means that even if a complying product costs more at first, it saves the consumer money in the long run by using less energy and thus lowering your utility bill.  Given a performance standard,  it’s up to industry to decide how to design, manufacture and market products that meet the standards.

And it works.  Your utility bills are much lower today than they would otherwise be because your refrigerator must meet an energy efficiency performance standard that requires it use only a fraction of the energy the old models used. That’s also true for your air conditioner, and your central furnace or heat pump, and your water heater, and your washer/dryer, and so on.  America has saved tens of billions of dollars because of these performance standards; the utilities have needed thousands fewer megawatts from new power plants and produced thousands fewer tons of pollutants from existing ones.   It’s call win, win, win, win . . .

But the Tea Party zealots believe in making everyone losers. They don’t know this started as a Republican idea, a concession liberals made decades ago to the notion that if you give the market maximum flexibility, the market will figure out the least-costly or most profitable way of achieving the social goal.  To the zealots, it’s just “regulation,” and regulation must be evil, even though it’s not.

The dim bulbs in the GOP-controlled House either don’t know or don’t care; killing DOE funding was just a way to throw red meat to their supporters and avoid a primary from people even dumber than they are.    We have a Congress full of losers and we need to get rid of the whole lot.

Meanwhile the coal industry will be thrilled that instead of buying cheaper light over the long run, you’re buying and burning more dirty coal now.

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John has been writing for Firedoglake since 2006 or so, on whatever interests him. He has a law degree, worked as legal counsel and energy policy adviser for a state energy agency for 20 years and then as a consultant on electricity systems and markets. He's now retired, living in Massachusetts.

You can follow John on twitter: @JohnChandley