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GOP-led Goofiness over Bulbs Continues - And Some in the Media Fall For It

Bob Keefe

Posted July 22, 2011

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Not content trying to repeal 2007 energy efficiency standards for light bulbs that would save our country $12.5 billion every year, the Republican-led House went so far as to take up legislation Friday that would have forced the government to quit buying, installing or even using any compact florescent bulbs in congressional offices.

Never mind that CFLs are 75 percent more efficient than old incandescent bulbs, saving taxpayers about $50 for every single light socket on Capitol Hill. Never mind that CFLs contain less mercury than a watch battery or a couple cans of tuna.

Fortunately, Pennsylvania Republican Rep. Glenn “G.T.” Thompson’s ban-the-CFL amendment failed.

Rep. Thompson's office tells me his intent wasn't to ban anything (read his amendment for yourself here)  but just to make the government to replace CFLs with new incandescents that are made in America. Sylvania now makes such bulbs in a factory in St. Mary’s Penn. that happens to be in Rep. Thompson’s district.

The government, like all of us, should be able to buy and use any kind of bulb - CFLs, improved incandescents, LEDs - that meets the 2007 standards designed to save money, cut energy consumption and reduce pollution.

If they're made in America, all the better. In fact, you can thank the 2007 lighting standards for prompting Sylvania to retool its plant to make new incandesents in Rep. Thompson's district.

The efficiency standards are why other factories are popping up in North Carolina, Florida, Ohio and elsewhere in America to make more efficient bulbs.

And efficiency standards are why other American companies are making more efficient refrigerators, cars and other goods that we all use and are fortunate to have today.

The recent Republican-led attempts to repeal the 2007 lighting efficiency standards would sidetrack all of that for light bulbs, under the misguided philosophy that government standards means government overreach.

Thompson's spokesman made it clear to me that he's against repealing the 2007 standards, and that he voted against the most recent repeal attempt led by Reps. Joe Barton, Michele Bachmann and other Tea Party politicians.

But that doesn't make his amendment any less nonsensensical or less indicative of just how crazy the ideological debate over light bulbs has become in Washington.

It's also illustrative of what can happen in the wake of the all the misinformation the Tea Party and others are spewing out about the 2007 efficiency standards.

Some in the media haven't exactly helped clear the air.

Many Americans incorrectly think there’s a ban on incandescent bulbs. (There’s not).

Many are deathly afraid of mercury in CFLs. (They shouldn’t be).

Many think incorrectly that Democracts and President Obama are behind the light bulb standards, when in fact they were backed by Republicans and signed into law by President George W. Bush four years ago.

Why the confusion?

 Media Matters, the Washington watchdog group, gives us some answers.

According to researchers at left-leaning Media Matters, the conservative media misled consumers at least 40 times in seven months on light bulbs. No wonder the public is confused.

Media Matters’ inventory of misleading and downright incorrect news coverage includes stories and editorials from the Wall Street Journal, The Washington Times, The Detroit News - and a whole lot of clips from Fox News. See the video compilation here.

After fielding calls from reporters on the topic for the past several months, I can tell you it’s not just conservative journalists or TV anchors with an agenda who have gotten this story wrong.

From fresh young reporters at no-nonsense news outlets in the Midwest to cranky editorial columnists at New England papers known for liberal leanings, many journalists have messed up in covering the brouhaha over bulbs.

Many reporters, editors and politicians were simply duped into believing the Tea Party’s misinformation on light bulbs. Facts aside, the story sounded good, was compelling and could be easily parroted on the political campaign trail.

Nevermind that that the Tea Party spin is inaccurate or that what they're trying to do would hurt consumers, our environment and our economy.

There used to be an old joke in the journalism business: “Don’t let the facts get in the way of a good story.”

Unfortunately, sometimes it’s not a joke.

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