Government making life more expensive for us in today’s Kirkwood-Webster Journal.
UPDATE: The link above is stale, so here’s the article for your reading pleasure:
In 2007, Congress passed the Energy Independence and Security Act of 2007. If you heard about this bill at all, a televised news bit might have said that it would help end American dependence on foreign oil. Maybe you read about the bill in the newspaper’s political sports pages as a box score in the perpetual pennant race between the Republicans and Democrats. Somehow, as it often happens with 300 page omnibus bills, you probably missed some costs that Congress has passed onto us without our notice.
In 2012, instead of going into your local store and picking up four 100-watt incandescent bulbs for $1.00 or $1.50, you will spend $4.00 for a single compact fluorescent light (CFL) bulb, $16.00 for four. The Energy Independence and Security Act bans the common incandescent bulb. With that simple action, Congress effectively raises the price of a light bulb from $.25 to $4.00 or more for every light, lamp, and ceiling fan in your home. The cost of replacing the 53 bulbs scattered around my home will go from $13.25 to $212.00 or more.
To be accurate, the Energy Independence and Security Act doesn’t explicitly ban incandescent bulbs. It only bans bulbs that use as much electricity as incandescent bulbs and allows only bulbs that are as energy efficient as CFL bulbs. If Congress outlawed cars with MPG ratings of lower than 30, it wouldn’t explicitly outlaw SUVs, trucks, and luxury sedans, but that would be the result.
I don’t oppose CFL bulbs; as a matter of fact, I use a couple for exterior lights that are on for long periods of time. However, CFL bulbs have additional costs and risks over incandescent bulbs. Since they contain mercury, breaking them can lead to toxic spills and death. Disposal is problematic, as you shouldn’t throw them away. Instead you should recycle them, but not with your recycling bin. To be responsible, you have to look for somewhere to drop them off or to send them. Some people probably won’t be responsible, dumping CFL bulbs and their mercury into landfills. CFL bulbs promise long lives and energy savings over several years, but you’re supposed to leave them on for more than five minutes at a time or risk shortening that lifespan. I don’t leave bathroom lights on for five minutes every time or spend five minutes minimum in my store room. Each short visit reduces the longevity of a CFL bulb and its value over its incandescent counterparts.
Congress often passes laws that provide immeasurable and possibly negligible benefit for the environment. With many of them, the costs to us remain indirect and somewhat obscured since they don’t impact sale prices. In 1995, the National Energy Policy Act mandated that toilets could only use 1.6 gallons per flush instead of the 3 to 7 gallons used previously. While that saves water, it also can lead to more drain blockage and quicker corrosion in household pipes since the lower flow of water doesn’t carry waste or sediments away as effectively. The Energy Independence and Security Act mandates that new washing machines and dishwashers use less water per washing cycle which also means less water carrying away the dirt and food particles and, potentially, leaving clothes or dishes dirty. Congress is not alone in making costly rules for us. In July, the Environmental Protection Agency released an Advance Notice of Proposed Rulemaking that calls for emissions regulation on lawnmowers. Catalytic converters and other emissions equipment will make lawnmowers more expensive, will increase maintenance costs, and cause the more complex machines to break down more easily.
The federal government has put most of these regulations into effect without attracting much attention. Since we consumers don’t see the costs directly, we’ve let this pattern continue without asking or debating whether the rules most effectively protect the environment and whether the total costs of the laws or regulations outweigh the anticipated, and sometimes measurable, benefits. Hopefully the coming light bulb shock of 2012 will draw some attention to the practice and spur debate in addition to sticking us with higher costs and prices.