What's next: putting lead back in gasoline and taking fluoride out of water?
At this precipitous moment, with millions of Americans out of work, the Middle East in crisis and Japan on the edge of a nuclear meltdown, Republicans in Congress have decided that lightbulb "freedom of choice" is a critical issue.
The law that they are taking to the airwaves to condemn was signed by that notorious tree-hugger George W. Bush (and voted for by 54 congressional Republicans). Because its energy-efficiency standards can't be met by tungsten-based incandescent lightbulbs, 100-watt bulbs will be obsolete come Jan. 1, with the rest phased out by 2014.
Incandescent bulbs waste about 90 percent of the energy that goes into them, much of it in generating more heat than light (a lot like this debate).
By contrast, alternative lightbulbs are far more energy-efficient. Compact Fluorescent Lamps (CFLs) use about a quarter of the energy of traditional lightbulbs and last 10 times longer. Halogen and LED lightbulbs also save significant amounts of energy.
Yet Republicans like U.S. Rep. Michele Bachmann of Minnesota are adamant. She insists that the government study the new lightbulbs to see if they pose a health risk.
Step back for a moment and take in the majestic irony: In just the past few weeks, Republican members of Congress voted for a bill that would cripple government food-safety inspections and enforcement of clean-air and -water standards, and they now want government scientists to determine whether CFLs are safe. These are the very same scientists, remember, who are 100 percent wrong about climate change:
Just this week, all 31 Republicans on the House Energy Committee voted against an amendment that simply stated that global warming exists.
By the way, here's the answer: CFLs do indeed contain 2 mg of mercury, and so special precautions should be taken if they break, and they should be carefully recycled at one of many stores that provide the service. But experts say the most extreme-breakage scenario would result in about the same mercury exposure that you would get from . . . a single meal of fish.
For their part, lightbulb and appliance manufacturers want no part of this fight. Federal standards are fine with them: They don't want to have to make different products to match different state regulations. And, despite reports of some individuals' hoarding the old lightbulbs, there is evidence that the American people already have made their choice: A poll by USA Today found that 71 percent of U.S. adults had tried the energy-efficient bulbs and 84 percent were "satisfied" or "very satisfied." And if you don't like the "pigtail"- shape CFL lights, there now are energy-efficient fluorescent bulbs that look like the old-style bulbs. As they did with food, appliances and cars, government standards actually spur innovation.
It is truly depressing how much, well, energy Republicans are wasting on this debate when Americans have so many more serious problems.
Talk about dim bulbs. *