News Story

Snyder Shedding No Light on Bulb Issue

 Gov. Rick Snyder is keeping everyone in the dark as to where he stands on trying to help Michigan escape the upcoming federal ban on incandescent light bulbs. Legislation aimed at letting Michigan sidestep the ban has been introduced in the state Legislature. However, Snyder has remained mum as to whether he'd sign it or not. In his first seven months in office, Snyder has shown himself to be a pro-free-market fiscal conservative in some ways, but the jury remains out regarding the governor's position on enviro-mandates such as the light bulb ban.

Any of several possibilities could explain Snyder's silence on the bulb issue. It could simply signal that he'd oppose it. It might also mean that he plans on timing an announcement of his position at a specific event in the future, or that he just hasn't made up his mind.

Meanwhile, the Legislature is expected to take up the issue soon.

“We're meeting this week in Lansing to plan out a schedule for after we return in the fall,” said Rep. Kenneth Horn, R-Frankenmuth, Chair of the House Energy and Technology Committee. “I expect to be taking it (the light bulb bill) up within the first five weeks.”

“We might have some hearings where we take testimony on it before then,” Horn added. “We'll be checking with the governor's office as we make our plans. Overall, I really don't see it taking up much time.”

The key to Horn's statement was probably the idea of checking with the governor's office. The strategy for moving the legislation could depend on whether or not Snyder supports the bill as it is currently drafted. If Snyder wants changes, a negotiation process could slow things down.

Under the bill, House Bill 4815, Michigan residents could purchase the soon-to-be-banned bulbs as long as they were produced in the state. Rep. Tom McMillin, R-Rochester Hills, introduced the legislation about three weeks ago as the issue heated up nationally.

McMillin was asked if he knew whether the governor would sign his bill or not.

“I don't know. I don't see why not,” McMillin responded. “I mean, it may be a bit edgy, but the edge is that we'd be standing up for Michigan citizens. I'd be surprised if the governor didn't sign it.

McMillin said that his bill was modeled after legislation already signed into law in Texas. He acknowledged that its constitutionality would probably be challenged in the courts, but he said he doesn't see why that should stop the bill from passing and being signed by Snyder.

“The Texas legislation is likely to be tested in court regardless,” McMillin said. “I don't see how this would hurt us (Michigan). There's no good reason for the governor not to sign it. It's all about issues like freedom and Michigan jobs.”

Under the Energy Independence and Security Act of 2007, light bulbs as bright as traditional 100-watt incandescents would be banned beginning in January 2012. The ban kicks in by limiting bulbs to no more than 72 watts. The change in January 2012 is the first step toward more stringent light bulb regulation. Standards for bulbs as bright as the traditional 60-watt incandescent would take effect in 2014.

Critics of the federal law argue that it allows government to literally go into homes of citizens and interfere with individual choices. Additional criticisms include the point that the ban is in reality a big profits giveaway to large national light bulb manufacturers, such as Philips, GE and Osram-Sylvania. Still another argument against the ban is that if the other light bulb alternatives really offered better value, government wouldn't need to force consumers to switch.

The key to McMillin's bill is that it attempts to utilize the limitations the U.S. Constitution places on Congress with regard to interstate commerce.

The key clause in HB 4815 states:

“An incandescent light bulb that is manufactured in this state without the inclusion of parts, other than generic or insignificant parts, imported from outside of this state and that remains within this state has not entered into interstate commerce and is not subject to congressional authority to regulate interstate commerce.”

Currently there are no light bulbs being produced in Michigan. However, McMIllin maintains that if his bill passes, it's likely that some bulb-producing companies would locate in the state.

If the Michigan Legislature were to pass HB 4815, it could send a strong message nationally. Congressman Fred Upton, R-St. Joseph, initially sponsored the ban but has since done a U-turn and now opposes it. A follow-up rejection of the ban by the Michigan Legislature could well be viewed as a double repudiation.

The light bulb debate has intensified nationally in recent weeks. The U.S. House has voted to eliminate funding for the light bulb mandate. However, few expect the U.S. Senate to follow suit. With this in mind, potential arguments in Michigan or elsewhere that the feds are already addressing the situation probably deserve to be classified as attempts to dodge the issue.

McMillin's bill is probably a “slam dunk” to pass in the Michigan House, and it's difficult to imagine it not passing in the Michigan Senate as well. It appears that Senate Energy and Technology Committee Chair Mike Nofs, R-Battle Creek, supports the bill in concept, which should help. What's more, the public outcry over the federal law would probably make it very difficult for lawmakers to oppose or postpone taking action.

Meanwhile, those supporting the ban have claimed that the so-called “conservative” news media has gotten the story wrong. In fact, they argue that the change in the law isn't a ban at all.

One online article making this claim was titled “Conservative Media Misled Light Bulb Consumers At Least 40 Times in 7 Months.”

The gist of this allegation is that the bulbs wouldn't really be banned — they'd just be subject to new regulations that would make it impossible to produce or sell them. Their other complaint about “conservative” misrepresentation seems to be that articles that are critical of the ban haven't made it clear enough that all incandescent bulbs wouldn't be subject to the ban on January 2012, and that compact fluorescent light bulbs (CFLs) wouldn't be the only alternatives left for consumers.

Michigan Capitol Confidential is the news source produced by the Mackinac Center for Public Policy. Michigan Capitol Confidential reports with a free-market news perspective.