Michigan’s ‘save the bulb’ bill

Michigan Rep. Tom McMillin says he wants to protect your family from mercury.

In a commentary published by the Detroit News over the weekend, a Michigan state lawmaker pledges his effort to exempt the state from light bulb efficiency standards will cause “jobs and increased businesses” to “flock to our state.”

Rep. Tom McMillin’s bill, HB 4815, would declare that any incandescent bulb built and sold in Michigan “has not entered into interstate commerce” and is therefore not subject to federal regulation. A similar law was passed in Texas earlier this summer, which experts say will likely be tossed out in court.

In his commentary, McMillin traffics in some well-worn myths about the law – that it was partisan (“passed by then House Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s Democratic Congress”), and that CFLs are the only alternative, (“Regular home-use bulbs would then be replaced mostly by compact fluorescent light bulbs”).

McMillin does make a valid point that most new bulbs will be manufactured outside the U.S., because they are more labor intensive to produce. The last American factory producing incandescent bulbs closed last year, in part because of the new standards (though also largely because of market forces). The bill is predicated on the idea that exempting the state from the standards will lead to a light bulb manufacturing boom.

This argument, however, disregards the economic stimulus from energy savings. The Natural Resources Defense Council estimates that the new standards will save Americans more than $12 billion in energy costs once fully enacted.

Perhaps the most puzzling point raised by McMillin is the mercury issue. As we’ve noted, the potential for mercury contamination from CFLs is dwarfed by the amount of mercury pumped out by power plants. Nevertheless, McMillin asks:

Furthermore, CFLs are known to contain mercury and require a multi-step cleanup process if they happen to break. Is this really something an environmentalist would want disposed into our ecosystem – or even within arm’s reach of children?

This is from a guy who voted against a bill to prohibit products containing mercury (like CFLs?) from being disposed in landfills, as well as other bills requiring stricter labeling and documentation of mercury in consumer products.

But the heart of McMillin’s bill, it seems, is a fear that the light bulb “ban” “allows the long arm of the federal government into our homes.”

It’s not economic or environmental concerns, but ideology, that drives this effort.

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