News Story

Path to 'Light Freedom' Bill Passage Still Unclear

Legislation that could let Michigan escape the federal phaseout and ban on traditional light bulbs is now in the Senate Regulatory Reform Committee.

As widely expected, House Bill 4815 was passed on a 62-46 mostly party-line vote in the GOP-controlled House last week. Rep. Matthew Lori, R-Constantine, was the lone Republican to vote against the legislation, while Rep. Richard LeBlanc, D-Westland, was the lone Democrat to vote in favor of it. Rep. Kurt Damrow, R-Port Austin, was not present.

Now that the measure has moved over to the Senate, its fate is uncertain. Not only is it unclear what the Senate will do with the bill; it's also unclear whether Gov. Rick Snyder supports it.

“My guess is that if they have trouble moving the bill, they're going to start getting a lot of calls and emails from grass-roots voters,” said Rep. Tom McMillin, R-Rochester Hills, the sponsor of the bill. “I wouldn't think that this would be an issue they'd want to ignore.”

Senate Regulatory Reform Committee Chair Tory Rocca, R-Sterling Heights, could not be reached for comment.

Under federal legislation passed in 2007, traditional 100-watt incandescent light bulbs would be banned from store shelves beginning Jan. 1, 2012. That's less than three months from now. The ban becomes more stringent over time, with traditional 75-watt and 60-watt incandescent bulbs scheduled for phaseout by 2014.

House Bill 4815 would allow Michigan residents to continue purchasing the federally banned light bulbs as long as they were produced in the state. The key to the measure is the argument that Congress has no authority to regulate commerce that takes place entirely within the boundaries of a single state. Currently no light bulbs are produced in Michigan, but Rep. McMillin says that could change if the bill were enacted.

Rep. McMillin points out that since Texas has already passed virtually the same legislation, it's not likely that Michigan would be on the hook for the legal costs if the measure were challenged in the courts.

Poll results on the issue are anything but consistent. 

A Rasmussen poll over the summer showed 67 percent of American adults opposed the light bulb ban. The question asked in the Rasmussen survey was:

While effectively banning the sale of traditional light bulbs, a new law will allow only more expensive light bulbs that are expected to last longer and be more energy efficient. Should the sale of traditional light bulbs be banned?

Proponents of the federal light bulb legislation insist that the federal law is not a “ban” and object to the way the Rasmussen question was worded. Their objection may be because under the law, people could conceivably store up traditional light bulbs and use them for years into the future.

The Natural Resources Defense Council prefers the following description for a poll question:

In 2007, Congress set higher energy efficiency standards for lighting that will go into effect next year. This will result in more energy-efficient light bulbs on store shelves, including brand new incandescent bulbs that are 25 to 30 percent more efficient. The standards will save Ohio residents more than $360 million a year and consumers nationwide $10 billion a year. Do you support or oppose these minimum energy efficiency standards for light bulbs?

When the question is posed this way, the majority of respondents in each state said they support the law: 60 percent in Ohio, 64 percent in Michigan and 69 percent in Illinois.

The poll that seems to have received the most news coverage on the light bulb issue is a USA TODAY Gallup survey done in February. The results from that survey had 61 percent of Americans calling the 2007 legislation a "good" law and 31 percent saying it was "bad."

This USA TODAY Gallup survey is significant because a large number of follow-up articles reference it. The question asked in the Gallup survey was:

As you may know, in 2007, Congress passed a law to set higher energy standards for light bulbs. This means standard light bulbs, or incandescent light bulbs, will be phased out in the next three years.  Do you think this is a good law or a bad law?

Readers should note that the poll was of “Americans” rather than likely voters.

“One possible reason a pollster would use Americans or adult Americans is that the sample will likely be somewhat more liberal than if they restrict the survey to likely voters or even registered voters,” said Paul King, pollster for Marketing Resource Group. “Likely voters tend to be more tuned in to various issues. If you're just limiting it to Americans, you'll probably get more people who aren't very engaged. Polls like that tend to have more people who answer ‘I don't know.’ ”

The Gallup poll didn't offer those surveyed an “I don't know” option, although 8 percent apparently refused to limit themselves to the confines of the question.

“The sample structure of a poll is very important,” King continued. “That's always an issue. Even when the survey is of 600 likely voters, I still like to take a very close look at the sample to evaluate self-identification factors and so on. There are ways that pollsters, whether they're liberal or conservative, can weight their samples. These are things the public should be made aware of.

Internet cruisers might notice that some of the articles written about the February Gallup survey tangle up the survey results with the 71 percent of survey participants who said they had tried out the new bulbs. In some follow-up articles, the impression created was that the survey found that 71 percent (or even “three out of four”) supported the federal law. The actual survey result was 61 percent, not 71 percent or 75 percent.

The reason for the inaccuracy seems to be the way initial articles about the survey were written. The lead paragraphs and headlines of the articles focused on 71 percent of those surveyed who said they'd tried out the new bulbs.

It raises the question of why the articles were written in ways that seem to confuse the survey results and exaggerate the level of support for the light bulb ban.

“I'd say it was because someone in the mainstream news media likes the federal light bulb legislation,” said pollster Steve Mitchell of East Lansing-based Mitchell Research. “That's probably why they led their stories with the bigger number.

“There's a big difference between six out of 10 and seven out of 10,” Mitchell added. “Yes, 61 percent is a majority, but it shouldn't be made to look like 71 percent.”

The February USA TODAY Gallup survey did not touch on the question of whether the participants believed government should be forcing consumers to switch bulbs, or if they believed it should be left up to the free market.

In a poll out of Virginia released in July by the free-enterprise group Americans for Limited Government and conducted by Pulse Opinion Research, 58 percent of likely voters opposed banning the bulbs. In addition, the survey showed that only 46 percent of the likely voters were aware of the ban, a fact that might foretell a potential backlash when the ban eventually kicks in. The survey showed 72 percent of self-described Republican voters and 57 percent of the Independent voters opposed the ban.

In a survey out of Chicago titled “New Poll Reveals Michigan Residents Support Strong Lighting and Appliance Efficiency Standards,” pollsters avoided the core light bulb question while asking about related issues that weren't politically contentious. Variations of this survey were done in other areas of the U.S. as well.

As with the earlier USA TODAY/ Gallup poll, some follow up stories that reference this survey portray it as proof that the public supports the light bulb phaseout.


See also:

Snyder Shedding No Light on Bulb Issue

Critics Challenge Choosing Upton as Energy Chair

Analysis: Slaves to Green Ideology