By ROBIN BRAVENDER | 12/18/11 7:47 PM EST
Big Business usually loves it when the GOP goes to war over federal rules.
But not when it comes to light bulbs.
This year, House Republicans made it a top priority to roll back regulations they say are too costly for business. Last week, the GOP won a long-fought battle to kill new energy efficiency rules for bulbs when House and Senate negotiators included a rider to block enforcement of the regulations in the $1 trillion-plus, year-end spending bill.
The rider may have advanced GOP talking points about light bulb “freedom of choice,” but it didn’t win them many friends in the industry, who are more interested in their bottom line than political rhetoric.
Big companies like General Electric, Philips and Osram Sylvania spent big bucks preparing for the standards, and the industry is fuming over the GOP bid to undercut them.
After spending four years and millions of dollars prepping for the new rules, businesses say pulling the plug now could cost them. The National Electrical Manufacturers Association has waged a lobbying campaign for more than a year to persuade the GOP to abandon the effort.
Manufacturers are worried that the rider will undermine companies’ investments and “allow potential bad actors to sell inefficient light bulbs in the United States without any fear of federal enforcement,” said Kyle Pitsor, the trade group’s vice president of government relations.
So, if industry wants these rules, why is the GOP grinding them to a halt? Republicans say they’re pro-choice when it comes to light bulbs.
Limited-government groups and conservative pundits have waged an aggressive campaign to upend the standards.
“The American people don’t like being told what to do,” said Thomas Schatz, president of the Council for Citizens Against Government Waste, which has lobbied Congress on the issue. “I’m glad I get to keep my light bulbs.”
Other conservative groups like FreedomWorks, the National Taxpayers Union and Americans for Prosperity have also embraced the cause.
Lighting manufacturers and advocates of the rules say that they’ve been falsely portrayed by conservatives and won’t take incandescent bulbs off the shelves.
The controversy over bulbs has spurred an unusual mix of lobbyists to get involved.
The Lupus Foundation of America has lobbied both chambers of Congress on a bill aimed at blocking the new standards, warning that lupus patients could suffer if incandescent bulbs become tougher to find.
Maggie Maloney, a spokeswoman for the foundation, said there have been indications that fluorescent lights can contribute to lupus flares. “We think it’s important that people with lupus to have options,” she said.
A host of other groups are pleading for Congress to keep the rules intact. Lobbying over light bulbs has soared over the past year as environmentalists, energy efficiency advocates and others have flooded Congress.
Light bulb lobbying has been reported in more than three dozen filings so far this year, according to federal reports. That’s compared with just three filings between 2007 and 2010 that mentioned light bulbs.
Other groups that have lobbied on bulb legislation in the past year include Puget Sound Energy, Sempra Energy, Edison International, MidAmerican Energy, the League of Conservation Voters, the National Association of Electrical Distributors and the Alliance to Save Energy.
Congressional energy aides on both sides of the aisle say they haven’t heard from any industry groups seeking a repeal of the lighting standards.
“The only people we are aware of who have opposed the bulb standards are some politicians and some conservative commentators,” said Bill Wicker, a spokesman for Senate Energy and Natural Resources Chairman Jeff Bingaman (D-N.M.).
Conservative groups and tea party favorites in the House, including GOP presidential candidate Michele Bachmann, have accused the government of a heavy-handed attempt to ban incandescent bulbs and limit consumer freedom.
“This wasn’t a light bulb manufacturer to me; this was an issue of the fundamental freedom of the American people and one more area where the federal government was encroaching in a place where it didn’t belong,” said Texas Rep. Michael Burgess, who has backed multiple efforts to block the standards.
The rules — authorized under a 2007 energy law signed by President George W. Bush — call for incandescent light bulbs to be 30 percent more energy efficient. They’re still slated to take effect Jan. 1, but the rider blocks funding for the Energy Department to enforce the rules through Sept. 30.