Monday, August 22, 2011

No ban on political posturing

Today the Herald published another of those "dueling viewpoints" pairs of op-ed columns taking pro and con sides on a particular issue. I know it is the op-ed page where publishing of varying views is to be expected, but this still feels like a continuing degradation of journalism down to mere transcription of things people say rather than a hunt for accurate information.

In this case the premise is horrible - "Should Congress ban incandescent light bulbs?" The problem is that the question does not well describe the issue at hand. In 2007 legislation was passed that over time phases out manufacture and import of light bulbs not meeting efficiency levels. This phase out include most of the extremely cheap standard incandescent bulbs that only devote about 10% of their energy usage to generating light. Lately many have made it a mission to repeal the not-really "ban" on incandescents. So the most recent Congressional rumblings have been about dropping the not-really ban as opposed to about banning. But anyway...

The pro case by Matthew Auer does a decent enough job explaining the not-really ban and noting the political fever that is the drive behind attacking the existing legislation. It notes benefits from energy efficiency, but could have discussed more as the last link in the paragraph above does.

The con by Amy Ridenour touches on some issues that are worth exploring (e.g., sure, there is mercury in CFLs, but it is in amounts less that would be spewed into the atmosphere from coal plants to produce the energy wasted by old incandescents), but the conclusion of "Who knows the needs of your household better: You, or Congress?" demonstrates how the foundation of this case is stirring up fears about government instrusion in people's lives.

What really annoyed me about Ridenour's case is that in all the hodgepodge of supposed reasons to overturn the not-really ban, she explicitly says at the beginning, "[i]gnore claims about global warming." In other words, do not consider one of the key reasons to push for energy efficiency, to decrease fossil fuel use and their CO2 emissions that drive climate change. But we need to stick with 19th century lighting technology because, e.g., "CFL and LED lighting aren't romantic."

I wonder, where is all the outrage about government taking away freedom, and where are the declarations that the market will cure all when it comes to the 1987 legislation signed by President Reagan mandating efficiency standards on appliances? Could that actually be good policy? Or will these same guardians of freedom fight to overturn that law and others like the ban on leaded gasoline?

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