A Bright Idea: Rescue the Incandescents


ACRU Staff


January 13, 2011

This column by ACRU Senior Fellow Ken Blackwell was published January 13, 2011, on The American Thinker website.

Why is Paris known as the City of Light? Is it because the U.S. Congress banned Thomas Edison’s incandescent light bulbs, so he had to take his invention offshore?

Well, not actually. Thomas Edison was an honoree at the 1889 Paris Universal Exposition, and he did go up in the Eiffel Tower. The Italian government conferred a knighthood at that event on the man who gave the world a brighter idea.

No, Congress in the 1880s would not have been so foolish as to extinguish Edison’s light bulb. But the liberal Congress in 2007 was so foolish. They passed (and, regrettably, President George W. Bush signed) the BULB Act. That cutesy acronym stands for the Better Use of Light Bulbs Act. By that act, incandescent light bulbs were to have been phased out by 2014.

The BULB Act was co-sponsored by Calif. Rep. Jane Harmon (D) and Michigan Rep. Fred Upton (R). Back in those halcyon days of green legislation, of cost-free environmentalism, few people noticed that one of America’s greatest inventions was about to be banned by an act of Congress.

Liberals were, quite literally, turning lights out on America — at least the incandescent kind. Edison’s invention was being treated like asbestos and lead paint. But once consumers got wind of the coming ban, they began hoarding “real” light bulbs.

Soon, documented stories began circulating highlighting negative aspects of the new, eco-friendly compact fluorescent light (CFL) bulbs. It was as if the Congress had tried to insert a CFL — Canadian Football League — championship game in place of the Super Bowl.

American Thinker alerted readers that CFLs use highly toxic mercury in April, 2007. They may last longer than real bulbs, but watch out if you break one or discard it. CFLs can cause migraines and aggravate epilepsy! What does this say about forcing them on health care providers?

Even the New York Times conceded that government nannying had failed to persuade consumers to shift from incandescents. The reason: they are cheap.

Many voters last fall were incandescent in their outrage at Congress’ meddling with the economy, with people’s way of life — and livelihoods. U.S. factories that make incandescent bulbs were shutting down and laying off American workers, only to have China pick up the slack.

Rush Limbaugh took up the conservative cudgels. When Michigan Congressman Upton rode back into office on the Republican tide last fall, Rush pointed to the BULB Act as Exhibit A in the case against Upton’s becoming chairman of the House Energy and Commerce Committee.

“This would be a tone-deaf disaster if the Republican leadership lets Fred Upton ascend to the chairmanship of the House energy committee,” Rush told his millions of listeners. “This is exactly the kind of nannysim, statism … that was voted against and defeated [in the midterm elections].”

Three House Republicans — Joel Barton (TX), Marsha Blackburn (TN), and Michael Burgess (TX) — went so far as to introduce legislation to repeal the BULB Act. Not only did Fred Upton co-sponsored the BULB Act, but he also amassed a record of liberalism on social and economic issues. He even messed with Daylight Saving Time! Now, that’s really liberal.

Mr. Upton managed to slip into the chairman’s seat in the run-up to the 112th Congress, but only by signaling a new openness to changing the BULB Act. “We have heard from the grassroots loud and clear, and will have a hearing early next Congress,” Upton said. “The last thing we wanted to do was infringe upon personal liberties — and this has been a good lesson that Congress does not always know best[.]” Well, if Mr. Upton didn’t see the light, he surely felt the heat.

In banning the incandescent light bulb, Congress substituted its own judgment for the wishes of the American people. They specifically backhanded the American consumer.

They did something else, too, and this is perhaps the worst thing: They spurned the achievement of one of America ‘s greatest geniuses. In 1914, when “the lights went out all over Europe,” the U.S. Patent Office announced that Thomas Alva Edison had patented a new idea at the rate of one every two weeks for nearly forty years! No wonder the home-schooled Edison was called “the wizard of Menlo Park.”

Edison left a brilliant legacy — not only patenting the incandescent light bulb, the phonograph, and the motion picture machine, but also giving Americans a confidence in their own native inventiveness. The world paid Edison an homage it will never pay to Nancy Pelosi.

Edison left some wise words for America, too. They can inspire us to climb out of the hole that many in government are digging for us:

Be courageous! Whatever setbacks America has encountered, it has always emerged as a stronger and more prosperous nation. … Be brave as your fathers before you. Have faith and go forward.



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