Rarely are political symbols as basic, or as powerful, as the light bulb.
Conservatives in Congress and on the airwaves figured this out after passage of a 2007 provision requiring more efficient bulbs. The law required the current type of 100-watt bulbs to be phased out beginning in January.
Last July, Rep. Joe Barton (R-TX) proposed legislation to repeal the rules. His bill, called the Better Use of Light Bulbs Act, or BULB, echoed an earlier measure by Rep. Michele Bachmann. Her bill, the Light Bulb Freedom of Choice Act, had died in committee.
“This is about more than just energy consumption, it is about personal freedom,” Barton said. “Voters sent us a message in November that it is time for politicians and activists in Washington to stop interfering in their lives and manipulating the free market. The light bulb ban is the perfect symbol of that frustration. People don’t want Congress dictating what light fixtures they can use.”
The battle that ensued forged odd alliances.
Although the law passed during the George W. Bush administration, current Energy Secretary Steven Chu voiced support, saying it would save money for consumers.
Tea Partiers such as Sen. Rand Paul (R-KY), along with conservative talk show hosts Glenn Beck and Rush Limbaugh, spoke out for the repeal. Rep. Fred Upton (R-MI), sponsor of the 2007 bill, reversed himself, backing its repeal.
“The last thing we wanted to do was infringe upon personal liberties — and this has been a good lesson that Congress does not always know best,” said Upton, now chairman of the House Energy and Commerce Committee.
Major light bulb makers, after helping to craft the original legislation and reconfiguring manufacturing facilities for the new standards, opposed Barton’s bill. Environmentalists stood on the same side, saying the rules would cut energy use.
And lobby shops representing major organizations and companies argued both sides of the issue.
Groups lobbying against the repeal included the Center For American Progress Action Fund, the Natural Resources Defense Council and the National Electrical Manufacturers Association, a trade group representing companies such as Philips and General Electric.
Among those lobbying for the repeal: the National Taxpayers Union and Citizens Against Government Waste.
Public relations played a large part in both campaigns.
Conservative organizations characterized the 2007 law as a remnant of “those halcyon days of green legislation, of cost-free environmentalism.”
Conservative columnist Ken Blackwell wrote in American Thinker: “Liberals were, quite literally, turning lights out on America – at least the incandescent kind. Edison’s invention was being treated like asbestos and lead paint.”
Manufacturers argued that misinformation was being deliberately distributed.
“Incandescent light bulbs are not being banned, and the new federal energy-efficiency standards for light bulbs do not mandate the use of CFLs (compact fluorescent light bulbs),” spokesman Joseph Higbee told The New York Times.
BULB required a two-thirds vote to pass in the House. It failed to clear that hurdle, with 233 voting yes and 193 voting no.
However, it passed as a rider on the omnibus spending bill last week, preventing the Department of Energy from implementing the new rules through September 2012.
Manufacturers aren’t happy.
With General Electric one of the most active lobbyists in Washington, spending $5.65 million in the third quarter, expect to hear more debate about light bulbs.
Organizations that Lobbied the Better Use of Light Bulbs Act
|National Electrical Manufacturers Association||Dutko Worldwide, LLC|
|Philips Holding USA Inc.||Business Council For Sustainable Energy|
|National Taxpayers Union||Alliance to Save Energy|
|Midamerican Energy Holdings Company||Consumer Electronics Association|
|Edison International||Center For American Progress Action Fund|
|Puget Sound Energy||U.S. Green Building Council|
|Natural Resources Defense Council||Southern Environmental Law Center|
|National Rural Electric Cooperative Association (NRECA)||Bluegreen Alliance|
|National Association of Realtors||National Association of Electrical Distributors, Inc.|
|Consumers Union of United States, Inc.||Zenith Electronics Corp.|
|Council For Citizens Against Government Waste||LG Electronics USA, Inc.|
|Sempra Energy||League of Conservation Voters|
Revolving Door Lobbyists That Lobbied the Better Use of Light Bulbs Act
- 79 lobbyists lobbied the Better Use of Light Bulbs Act, including 20 revolving door staffers and one former member of Congress.
Glenn English (National Rural Electric Cooperative Association (NRECA))
Formerly: Democratic Representative – Oklahoma District 6
Laura Knapp (Consumer Electronics Association)
Formerly: Legislative Assistant – Rep. Mike Thompson (D-CA)
Robert Mosher (Alliance to Save Energy; Morris Manning & Martin, LLP)
Formerly: Legislative Director – Rep. Doris Matsui (D-CA)
Ellen Bloom (Consumers Union of United States, Inc.)
Formerly: Deputy Chief of Staff – Department of Commerce
Andrew Scott Wright (Dutko Worldwide, LLC)
Formerly: Chief of Staff – Rep. Brad Sherman (D-CA)
Jack Swetland (Center For American Progress Action Fund)
Formerly: Legislative Assistant (Appropriations and Special Projects) – Rep. William J. Jefferson (D LA-2)
Bryan Mark Howard (U.S. Green Building Council)
Formerly: Legislative Assistant – Sen. Mark Udall (D-CO)
Alex Taurel (League of Conservation Voters)
Formerly: Legislative Correspondent – Sen. Robert Menendez (D-NJ)
James Allen (Puget Sound Energy)
Formerly: District Director – Rep. Jim McDermott (D-WA)
John Cassady (National Rural Electric Cooperative Association (NRECA))
Formerly: Legislative Assistant Housing Transportation Small Business Telecommunications – Rep. Deborah Pryce (R OH-15)
Christine Heggem (National Rural Electric Cooperative Association (NRECA))
Formerly: Minority Professional Staff Member – Subcommittee on Military Construction, Veterans Affairs, and Related Agencies (Senate Committee on Appropriations)
Brian Cavey (National Rural Electric Cooperative Association (NRECA))
Formerly: Legislative Director – Sen. Max Baucus (D-MT)
Jacquelyn Olson (Philips Holding USA Inc.)
Formerly: Disclosed – “Project/Ofc Manager, Office of Cong. Steve Pearce”
Sarah A Owen (National Electrical Manufacturers Association)
Formerly: Legislative Director (Labor, Tax Issues, Superfund, Financial Services, Judiciary, Budget) – Rep. Michael Bilirakis (R FL-9)
Kim Koontz Bayliss (Dutko Worldwide, LLC)
Formerly: Disclosed – “Leg. Asst. and Leg. Director, Rep. Mike Synar (1988-1992)”
Yvette Pena-Lopes (Bluegreen Alliance)
Formerly: Press Secretary – Rep. Silvestre Reyes (D-TX)
Robert P Hall III (Dutko Worldwide, LLC)
Formerly: Disclosed – “Leg. Counsel to Senator Sam Nunn (1987-1991).”
Lisa Anne Jacobson (Business Council For Sustainable Energy)
Formerly: Legislative Assistant – Rep. Rosa L. DeLauro (D-CT)
Lowell Ungar (Alliance to Save Energy)
Formerly: Legislative Assistant (Defense, Arms Control, Energy, Environment) – Sen. Tom Harkin (D-IA)
Kevin G. Curtin (Law Offices of Kevin G. Curtin)
Formerly: Democratic (Minority) Chief Counsel and Staff Director – Senate Committee on Commerce, Science, and Transportation
Navis Bermudez (Southern Environmental Law Center)
Formerly: Minority (Democratic) Professional Staff Member – Subcommittee on Water Resources and Environment (House Committee on Transportation and Infrastructure)
Coalition Builder Image of Lobbying Activity on 112 H.R.2417: Better Use of Light Bulbs Act