There They Go Again: The Conservatives' War Against Energy Conservation and Clean Energy

Republican members of the House of Representatives are at it again: After trying and failing to overturn light bulb energy-efficiency standards that were passed by a bipartisan majority in 2007 and signed into law by President George W. Bush (a Republican, if you will recall), they’re relying once more on what they see as their next best option—undermining the U.S. Department of Energy’s ability to enforce the law. That law protects consumers and the American manufacturers who’ve invested heavily in energy-efficient bulbs. But the Republican plan, passed as part of House energy legislation this week, is to cut funding for the law’s enforcement. (You’ve got that right. Law-and-order Republicans are encouraging light bulb sellers to flout the law. Go figure.)

6196476724_a53607dab2.jpgThanks to lighting innovations sparked by the bipartisan Energy Independence and Security Act of 2007, American households can save an average of $100 a year or more on energy. House Republicans, however, are trying to undermine that success and the growing success of clean energy overall. (Photo: US Dept. of Energy Solar Decathlon)

Americans like these new bulbs because they save them money on their energy bills. And though the Republican amendment isn’t likely to make it into the final House-Senate compromise energy bill, their efforts are part of an overall Republican legislative effort to slash government clean-energy funding by more than half. (In the same legislation, Republicans have also made damaging and callous cuts to the weatherization program, which makes the homes of low-income Americans more energy efficient, and, as a result, enables many of them to make ends meet.) Perhaps, all this is part of what many Republican officials see as a culture war, or a quid pro quo for their fossil-fuel-industry benefactors. Either way, these efforts move us a backward as a nation, not forward. They undermine the President’s ambitious climate plan. They deny the well-documented success of energy efficiency in saving consumers money, creating jobs and cutting pollution. (Examples of energy efficiency’s tremendous benefits in California are available in this new and important NRDC report.) And none of these Republican attempts help us create the clean energy future that Americans overwhelmingly want, or meet the many challenges of the 21st century.

House Republicans are once again wasting everyone’s time and the taxpayers’ money on frivolous votes that needlessly fight against traditional Republican values of thrift and cutting waste. "Given that American manufacturers have committed to following the law regardless of whether or not it is enforced," Ohio Congresswoman Marcy Kaptur explained on the House floor during the light bulb debate this week, "the only benefit of this ill-informed rider is to allow foreign manufacturers —who may not feel a similar obligation—to import noncompliant light bulbs that will not only harm the investments made by U.S. companies, but place at risk the U.S. manufacturing jobs associated with making compliant bulbs." I hope the Senate will once again reject this latest political grandstanding.

Consider the light-bulb efficiency standard, which is being undermined, and was created as part of the Energy Independence and Security Act of 2007 (EISA), proposed by Michigan Republican Fred Upton, by the way. This law has benefits for everyone. There are annual household energy savings of $100 a year, and better quality lighting, too, thanks to the innovation EISA has sparked. There are thousands of new American jobs in manufacturing, research, development, design and marketing of new lighting options. In fact, at least one American manufacturer has even moved some of its operations back to the U.S. from China to meet demand for the new, more efficient bulbs. How often do we see that happen?

Add to all that pollution cuts equivalent to taking 17 million cars off the roads each year.

EISA doesn’t ban the old-fashioned incandescent light bulbs – it just makes them better. It has spurred creation of new energy-saving incandescents, which are finally on shelves at stores nationwide. Many of these new bulbs cost less than $1.50 each. Before the law, by contrast, the American light bulb languished in a technological backwater, with few major improvements after Thomas Edison first designed the thing more than a century ago. 

Now, there are incandescents that are almost 30 percent more efficient And it’s not just incandescent bulbs that consumers can choose from. There are those twirly CFLs, which perform better and provide better light than they used to—I know, I use them all over my house. And LED bulbs, too. They’re the biggest money savers, since they last for about 20 years.

No wonder the law and its enforcement have widespread support from consumer groups, from lighting manufacturers, from labor groups, religious groups, environmental groups, business groups, even Republican groups.

Of course, the House Republicans weren’t content to stop with light bulbs. They also took a swipe at efficient ceiling fans. My colleague Marianne DiMascio at the Appliance Standard Awareness Project has a great blog on that one. 

Other clean energy funding cuts in the House energy legislation passed yesterday undermine our efforts to move forward as well. In research alone, funding has been slashed by more than half—cuts of $766 million—leaving the Republicans’ proposed new clean-energy research total at $731.6 million. The budget for the Advanced Research Projects Agency—Energy, which supports the kind of energy innovation that can help America regain our lead in technologies that will transform the way we generate, store and use energy, instead of losing that lead to countries like China—that budget will plummet from $265 million last year to $70 million in the current fiscal year. By contrast, in the House energy legislation, the world’s richest industry --the mature fossil fuel industry, which has benefitted from more than $450 billion in federal dollars over the last 100-plus years --gets off easy. It will be the beneficiary of nearly $450 million, with a mere $84 million cut from last year’s total.

There’s no culture war over light bulbs or clean energy. Nobody is taking anybody’s incandescents away. The same old ordinary, old-fashioned light bulbs that I grew up with are still on the shelf  They just perform better and save us money. And newer, cooler, even more efficient options like LED are proliferating, offering consumers an ever-widening choice of how to light their homes. The same goes for clean-energy research: It’s not taking anything from anyone. If the Republicans in the House were really concerned only about the federal deficit, they’d have cut fossil fuel subsidies at the same rate as clean energy.

What we need now as a nation are new jobs, money savings for cash-strapped consumers and businesses, and technologies that significantly cut the pollution that damages our kids’ health, turbocharges extreme weather and fuels global warming. With any of these challenges, cutting funding for the enforcement of light bulb efficiency standards and funding for clean energy moves us backwards, not ahead.

About the Authors

Kit Kennedy

Director, Energy & Transportation program

Join Us