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Source: The Syracuse Post-Standard

Rep. Ann Marie Buerkle seeks to rescind regulations she thinks are bad for business


Posted: February 8, 2011
Originally Published: February 8, 2011

Washington, D.C. -- When it comes to light bulbs, U.S. Rep. Ann Marie Buerkle says Americans should be free to choose.

The new congresswoman says it should be up to consumers to decide if they want to buy the standard incandescent bulb invented by Thomas Edison 130 years ago, or the new generation of energy-saving compact fluorescent bulbs.

As Buerkle views it, Congress took away that choice in 2007 when it passed the Energy Independence and Security Act — legislation signed into law during the George W. Bush administration. The law included energy efficiency standards for light bulbs, to be phased in beginning Jan. 1, 2012. Incandescent bulbs currently fail to meet the standards.

Buerkle, R-Onondaga Hill, says the law amounts to a ban on incandescent bulbs. She and 20 other conservative Republicans in Congress are seeking to repeal the new standards.

On her first day in Congress, Buerkle signed on as one of the 13 original co-sponsors of the BULB (Better Use of Light Bulbs) Act, introduced by Rep. Joe Barton, R-Texas. Buerkle said it is the first in a series of bills she will support that match her agenda to make government smaller, with fewer regulations to hold back the growth of business. As a member of the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform, Buerkle said she is in the perfect position to play a key role in repealing bad regulations.

The committee chairman, Rep. Darrell Issa, R-Calif., has promised to do away with regulations that hamper job growth. He has sent more than 150 letters to businesses, trade associations and think tanks asking for suggestions.

In her first month in office, Buerkle said she has started to ask the same question of local businesses: What laws stand in the way of your growth?

Issa appointed Buerkle vice chairwoman of the Subcommittee on Regulatory Affairs, Stimulus Oversight and Government Spending. The congresswoman said she hopes to take advantage of her leadership post to hold field hearings in Syracuse and Central New York, where local businesses can suggest what regulations to slash.

Local economic development officials at the CenterState Corporation for Economic Opportunity in Syracuse have already asked members for suggestions to pass along to Buerkle. Deb Warner, CenterState CEO’s vice president for public policy and government relations, said it is too early in the process to discuss any specific regulations.

In the case of the old light bulb, no Central New York companies manufacture them, nor have large numbers of constituents raised any of the new regulations as an issue. But Buerkle said she will seek to repeal any regulation that she views as holding back job growth.

She said the lighting efficiency standards approved as part of the 2007 energy bill are simply bad for business — most compact fluorescent bulbs are made in China — and amount to unnecessary government intrusion into the free market.

“I think the biggest issue with this legislation is what this does for jobs,” Buerkle said of the BULB Act, noting that one of the last American incandescent light bulb factories closed in September in Winchester, Va.

“If we’re talking about creating jobs and getting our economy back on track, that’s a big piece,” Buerkle said. “Beyond that, I guess the question is whether you want the government telling you what kind of light bulb you can use.”

Buerkle said many people don’t like the compact fluorescents, or CFLs, because some produce a dimmer light than a typical soft-white incandescent. She added, “It’s not like the CFL bulbs are completely safe.” Buerkle said the small amount of mercury in each bulb is enough to contaminate 6,000 gallons of water beyond safe-drinking standards.

Advocates for the lighting efficiency standards say the mercury in each bulb is a few grams, comparable to the tip of a ballpoint pen. And over the long run, CFLs prevent much larger quantities of mercury from polluting the air from coal-fired power plants, they say. As for disposal, in Onondaga County used CFL bulbs are accepted at most Ace and True Value hardware stores.

Some of Buerkle’s constituents say her support for the BULB Act is shortsighted. Sarah Eckel, of Syracuse, legislative director for Citizens Campaign for the Environment, said there is a reason why the new lighting efficiency standards won bipartisan support in 2007.

“Our leaders are sending a strong signal, and the right signal, to the market to spur innovation,” Eckel said. “It’s not favoring CFLs or any light bulb in particular. It’s saying you need to make them more efficient because energy efficiency is the cheapest and cleanest way to cut our power use.”

Eckel said other forms of energy-efficient household lighting, including LED (light-emitting diode) lights, are already coming onto the market. “We are seeing more innovation with our light bulbs, and I think it’s only going to get better,” Eckel said. “When people demand a new technology, you’re going to have a rough draft that will improve over time.”

Since at least 90 percent of the energy that flows into an incandescent bulb is lost as heat, the CFLs have proven to save energy and money for homeowners, she said. The typical household that replaces three incandescent bulbs with energy-efficient bulbs saves about $60 per year in electricity costs, according to the National Audubon Society.

Howard Brandston, an internationally known lighting designer who has illuminated landmarks that include the Statue of Liberty and the former Niagara Mohawk building in downtown Syracuse, is among those who say the savings is not worth the trouble.

Brandston, 75, of Columbia County, said he recently called Buerkle and offered to testify about the lighting efficiency regulations to her congressional subcommittee. He said that incandescent bulbs are responsible for 3.6 percent of annual American energy consumption — a percentage that he says is not worth the disruption to the “quality of light” Americans expect.

“It’s such a boondoggle it staggers my imagination,” Brandston said of the new standards. “It is meeting all kinds of resistance everywhere. Not a day goes by that I don’t get at least a half-dozen e-mails complaining about CFL bulbs.”

Brandston said he has heard of “knowledgeable and intelligent people” who have started stockpiling the incandescent bulbs in anticipation that they will be phased out in the next few years. “I believe this is the best marketing program I have ever seen of a product that doesn’t sell well,” Brandston said, adding that he blames “lobbyists and energy zealots” for pushing for the energy-efficient bulbs.

Opponents of Barton and Buerkle’s BULB Act point out that a similar version of the legislation to repeal the new lighting standards failed in the last Congress. “It’s the wrong direction for a clean energy economy and the wrong direction for our country,” said Tony Iallonardo, a spokesman for the National Wildlife Federation in Washington.

“This new technology isn’t just about reducing emissions,” Iallonardo said. “It’s about reducing energy costs. And it helps make way for a clean energy economy. To stand in the way of that is just standing in the way of progress.”

He suggested that Barton, the author of the bill, simply does not like any federal regulations. “Joe Barton probably wouldn’t have liked the seat belt law, and he probably would not have liked FDA regulation of tobacco,” Iallonardo said.

Buerkle has been reluctant to say which, if any, regulations she would consider off-limits from a review. She was asked if any regulations that protect human health, the environment and safety should be excluded.

“The key here is not what I think — it’s what the business owners think,” Buerkle said Monday. “I tell them that Darrell Issa has charged us to go out and talk to the people about what regulations are impeding their success.”

As for undoing widely accepted regulations — such as those that require auto manufacturers to install seat belts — Buerkle said that is not her intent. “I don’t think it’s fair to make the leap,” she said. “We are looking for the over-reach of the government. I think safety is a legitimate role of the government.”

Rep. Elijah Cummings, D-Md., the top Democrat on the Oversight and Government Reform Committee, told the Washington Post on Monday that if creating jobs was as simple as eliminating regulations, it would have been done already. “It’s one thing to have a job, and it’s another thing to know that there are regulations in place to make sure that you come home at the end of the day, that you’re not harmed, and that American people are kept safe,” Cummings told the paper.

As for the light bulbs, the new standards make sense, especially since most of Europe and other nations have passed similar efficiency standards to help their economies grow jobs and compete globally, said Joe Mendelson, director of global warming policy for the National Wildlife Federation.

“The reality is that the more we adopt innovative technologies and standards to push that, the better it is for our country, which has had a pretty good lead in driving innovation and green technology,” Mendelson said.

Added Iallonardo, “We do want to transition to the clean energy economy. We do want to win this race that will translate into new jobs for New York. Really, we would lose, and the U.S. loses, if we don’t keep up with China.”

Buerkle said those who argue that the new standards will help America achieve energy independence may have a good point. But she said it’s not up to the federal government to decide if it’s a good idea. “It goes back to the fundamental question of, ‘What is going to succeed in the market?’ The government should not be mandating the use of one light bulb or the other,” she said. “Let the market decide.


Reconsidering rules

Businesses have asked House Republicans to roll back or pre-empt more than 150 rules governing industries from Wall Street to those who make cleaning products for your bathroom, according to documents obtained by the Washington Post. The newspaper said Monday that the targeted regulations include:

Financial disclosures: Financial regulations that require companies to disclose how much the chief executive is paid compared to how much the typical worker is paid.

Worker rights: Rules that require mining companies to disclose information about mine safety and health information and labor regulations that require employers to post notices informing workers of their rights under federal labor law.

Limits on hours: Transportation regulations that limit the number of hours airline pilots can be on duty between rest periods.

Emissions: Environmental and energy regulations on greenhouse gas emissions and fuel economy standards for cars, trucks and commercial vehicles; and limits on hazardous air pollution from trash incinerators.