To the list of things that threaten to end civilization as we know it, add candle-shaped light bulbs.
That’s the issue in California’s latest threatened lawsuit, or one of them, against the Trump administration. The Department of Energy is about to finalize a federal rule that would reverse an Obama-era rule that changed the definition of a light bulb.
If you’re wondering why anyone made a federal case out of that, it’s because in 2007, Congress passed a law that required light bulbs to meet energy-efficiency standards. Not every type of light bulb was covered by the law. Congress defined a “general service lamp” or “general service incandescent lamp” very precisely: omnidirectional light, designated range of lumens, screw base, typical household size, pear-shaped except for spiral-shaped compact fluorescent lights.
Candle-shaped bulbs were not included, and neither were those reflector bulbs that are used in recessed or track lighting. Round light bulbs, the kind you’d find in a bathroom light fixture around a mirror, were not included, either.
That left roughly half the bulbs in the United States without a federal regulation governing energy efficiency. So on Jan. 19, 2017, one day before Donald Trump was sworn in as president, the Obama administration finalized a federal rule changing the definition of “general service lamp” and “general service incandescent lamp” to include candelabra bulbs, reflector bulbs, dimmer and brighter bulbs, and bulbs in voltage ranges used in Europe. The definition change brought these previously excluded bulbs under the federal energy efficiency standards in the 2007 law, effective Jan. 1, 2020.
The National Electrical Manufacturers Association (NEMA) took legal action almost immediately, arguing that including the specialty light bulbs in the definition of “general service lamp” was inconsistent with the text of the law. Congress had said specifically that these types of bulbs were “not included.”
The Department of Energy settled with NEMA, agreeing to review the rule. And last February, the government issued a “notice of proposed rulemaking,” seeking public comment on a new federal rule that restored the old definitions.
Some states, Washington and Colorado among them, passed laws to preserve the federal energy efficiency standards on specialty bulbs within their borders. California and other states are poised to sue over what critics call a “rollback” and NEMA says is a return to compliance with the law that Congress passed.
On Thursday, New Jersey Rep. Frank Pallone, Jr., chairman of the House Energy and Commerce Committee, brought out one of Thomas Edison’s great-grandsons to criticize the Trump administration’s decision to restore the 2007 definitions.
Barry Edison Sloane said Edison would have agreed that “given the urgency climate change presents, this kind of action is like throwing gasoline on our burning house.”
It was a big week for apocalyptic rhetoric on the climate-change issue. A think tank in Australia released a report warning that unless we take “immediate drastic action,” we’ll be living in a world of “outright chaos” where “political panic becomes the norm.”
The argument can be made that climate-change alarm increases in direct proportion to the money available to those who are most alarmist. Consider the likely effect of an announcement last week by former New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg. He said he will donate $500 million to a new campaign called “Beyond Carbon.” The money will fund lobbying efforts by
environmental groups at the state and local level, as well as the campaigns of candidates for local office.
The dangled cash virtually guarantees that thousands of candidates and lawmakers across the country, all raising money at the same time for the 2020 elections, will be scowling into cameras and repeating warnings that the world will come to an end — unless we give the government the power to decide what type of energy we may use and how much more we’ll have to pay for it.
The problem with climate-change alarmism is that it spreads a generalized sense of fear and panic that leads people to say things like, “Who am I to know? The experts must know. We have to do what they tell us to do.” People who are afraid will believe what their rational minds can’t verify.
That’s how freedom can be eroded, or even abolished. Freedom is a condition that exists under a government of limited power. When people are frightened, and they allow the government to take actions that exceed any limits on power, even the most advanced countries can descend into dictatorship, unleashing unimaginable horrors.
The 75th anniversary of D-Day is a reminder that this isn’t an alarmist fantasy, it has actually happened. Another anniversary in June, 30 years since the Tiananmen Square massacre, is a reminder that a government of unlimited power is not a benevolent organization.
The fight over light bulbs is about the use of the federal rulemaking process to rewrite laws passed by Congress. It’s a battle over limits on government power.
The Trump administration is right to reverse the Obama-era rule and restore the definitions in the 2007 law. If Congress wants to impose the new standards on non-standard bulbs, it will have to pass new legislation to do that.
This is the design of the Constitution, which places protective restrictions on the power of government. People can be frightened into believing that the government must exceed any restrictions on its power in order to protect us from some danger, real or imagined. But think twice before giving up any of your freedom. It’s always a long way back, if it’s even possible to get there.
Susan Shelley is an editorial writer and columnist for the Southern California News Group. [email protected] Twitter: @Susan_Shelley.