Brian Carney bids farewell to Edison’s environmental WMD

The Wall Street Journal‘s Brian Carney takes on the energy bill’s de facto ban on incandescent light bulbs, especially its rent- seeking potential for manufacturers of fluorescent bulbs, who . (Brian’s bro Tim tackled the issue in his DC Examiner column last Friday.)

Whether it’s next week or next decade, you will one day walk into a hardware store looking for a 100-watt bulb–and there won’t be any. By 2014, the new efficiency standards [which traditional incandescent bulbs cannot meet] will apply to 75-watt, 60-watt and 40-watt bulbs too…

Representatives of Philips and General Electric, two of the biggest lightbulb makers, say there’s nothing to be concerned about.

Well, maybe not for them.

[I]f you’re GE or Philips or Sylvania, the demise of the plain vanilla lightbulb is less a threat than an opportunity–an opportunity, in particular, to replace a product that you can sell for 50 cents with one that sells for $3 or more…

Now it may be that those bulbs are worth more–because they last longer, etc. But some of those bulbs, like compact fluorescents and Philips’ new “Halogena-IR” bulb, are already available. Currently they command all of 5% of the lightbulb market. That means that, whatever value proposition GE and Philips are selling, consumers aren’t buying.

What we bulb buyers needed, it seemed, was a little nudge. Or, if you want to be cynical about it, the bulb business decided to migrate its customers to more-expensive–and presumably higher-margin–products by banning the low-cost competition.

The proposition of sextupling the price of a common household item is one that consumers should naturally resist. Some environmental activists may well argue that such a price is worth paying towards their vision of planetary salvation. Fine. But what they cannot then honestly say is that the costs of such enforced “green” consumption are minimal. (Why hurt your standard of living when all you need is a trip to Lowe’s?) Imagine what we’d end up paying when mandates like this are extended to other things we need at home.