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Texas' War on behalf of the Incandescent Light Bulb Dies a Quiet, Predictable Death

In 2011, state lawmakers took a break from slashing school funding, dreaming up new abortion restrictions and fighting against the encroachment of Islamic law to do battle with a new enemy: the compact fluorescent light bulb.

More and more, those tightly coiled tubes were replacing Edison's good ol' incandescent bulbs, thanks in no small part to federal energy efficiency standards requiring bulbs to be 25 percent more efficient. It wasn't a ban, per se, but it had the same effect, since incandescent light bulbs work by heating a metal filament, and there's a limit to how efficient they can be.

Texas Republican's declared this to be a gross violation of every American's fundamental right to buy whatever damn light bulb they choose, so they rallied behind a bill filed by state Representative George Lavender of Texarkana effectively telling the federal government to shove it.

That was the rhetoric, at least. The bill itself, which Governor Rick Perry signed readily upon passage, wasn't so much a resounding statement against federal authority as an awkward sidestep around an innocuous federal rule. For traditional incandescent light bulbs to sold in Texas, they would also have to be manufactured in Texas, thereby circumventing federal authority over interstate commerce. Lavender didn't ignore the fact that Texas lacks a light bulb manufacturing plant; he simply pinned the bill on the hope that someone would build one to cater exclusively to Texans, since the product would be forbidden elsewhere.

That hasn't happened. A year ago, Lavender posited that bulb makers were being intimidated by the federal government but remained optimistic that one would set up shop in Texas. Now, he seems resigned to the thought that incandescent bulbs are a thing of the past.

"The most disappointing thing to me is that we haven't found anyone willing to put in a plant and make them," Lavender told the Austin American-Statesman, which reported Wednesday on the dimming hopes of fending off CFLs.

Of course, that was never a very serious proposition. First is basic economics. No way would a light bulb manufacturer scale down manufacturing operations to serve a single state, even one as large as Texas. That would make very little business sense. Then there's the fact that the industry has already adapted to changing consumer tastes and a changing regulatory environment, as was made clear when light bulb manufacturers lined up against a Tea Party-led effort to defund the new light bulb standards.

Now that that's clear, perhaps Texas politicians can turn to more significant issues, like luring a Hummer plant here to flaunt Obama's new vechicle efficiency standards.


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