Big Government Inside Your Home

by  Audrey Hudson

Dishwashers that don’t clean dishes, toilets that barely flush and showers that sprinkle—all are the result of government mandates that supposedly will save the environment.

Now government is back with more mandates that essentially ban the incandescent light bulb and the next target of federal regulators could well be the television cable box.

“This town is a smorgasbord of people who want to tell you how to run your life, from what light bulbs you screw into the socket, to how much water flows through your toilet,” said Rob Gordon, senior advisor for strategic outreach at the Heritage Foundation.

Bob Dorigo Jones, senior fellow with the Foundation for Fair Civil Justice, called the government actions “laws of unintended consequences.”

“To government, these might seem like common-sense improvements, but not to the rest of us,” Jones said.

In 2007, Congress imposed stricter efficiency standards on traditional incandescent bulbs that the industry now says it cannot meet. Come January, those light bulbs will effectively be banned.

“They did what industry lobbyists and green groups told them to do at the risk of the health and wallets of the American people,” says Amy Ridenour, president of the National Center for Public Policy Research.

But a public backlash by consumers hoarding the old bulbs that cost about 30 cents a piece compared to about $5 for the new compact fluorescent light bulbs, plus a ten-step suggestion from the EPA on how to clean up after breaking these broken bulbs made in China that contain poisonous mercury, is pushing Congress to reverse it’s de facto ban.

“Let’s get the government out of something they shouldn’t have been in the first place,” said Rep. Joe Barton (R. – Tex.), who is sponsoring the repeal legislation.

So how many congressmen does it take to change a light bulb? Not enough, apparently.

A measure to reverse the standards failed July 12 on a 233-to-193 vote, short of the two-thirds majority votes necessary to pass the bill under the rule that brought it to the floor.

Nearly a dozen Republicans opposed this version of the bill, (H.R. 2417) because it prohibits states from banning the bulb, which they claim violates the 10th Amendment and the spirit of federalism.

So said a letter the Congressional Constitutional Caucus sent to members before the vote, urging them instead to support another measure, H.R. 91.

“This legislation would have simply repealed the ban on incandescent light bulbs and returned freedom of choice to consumers throughout the United States,” the letter said.

But Barton isn’t giving up and says he will try to attach the language in H.R. 2417 to other legislation moving through the House that won’t require a two-thirds vote.

The Obama Administration opposes the bulb reversal, claiming it would “result in negative economic consequences for U.S. consumers and the economy.”

“In sum, the bill would hinder an opportunity to save American consumers money, while enhancing energy efficiency and reducing harmful emissions associated with energy production,” the administration said.

While Congress struggles over what to do about the light bulb, the New York Times and some environmental groups are calling for government regulation of cable television units called set-top boxes.

A recent Times editorial points to alarming numbers that claim it takes 27 billion kilowatt-hours of electricity nationally to power set-top boxes, which the paper says roughly equals the output of nine coal-fired power plants.

“The service providers who buy and distribute set-top boxes have largely ignored the power problem because the costs are borne by customers,” said the July 4 editorial.

The Times argued that “To focus the industry on efficiency, the federal government might have to regulate the boxes the same way it does household appliances like refrigerators, which use only a fraction of the power they consumed before regulation. Then this conservation problem surely would be solved.” the editorial said.

The cited figures are based on a study by the liberal Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC), which was funded with a grant from the Environmental Protection Agency.

The study says 160 million set-top boxes in 2010 cost households more than $3 billion a year. Breaking down the math, it costs consumers $18.75 a year, or a nickel a day.

The NRDC estimated that set-top boxes use 275 to 446 kilowatt hours a year, compared to a 21 cubic foot energy efficient refrigerator that uses 415 kilowatts a year.

Dirty Dishes

“Whether it’s the nanny state that makes sure you don’t do something too dangerous, to the green community making sure you leave no footprint, they are really looking to make everything zero risk,” Gordon said.

The movement to remove phosphates from dishwasher detergent began in the Washington State legislature as an environmental-protection measure for area waterways and the idea quickly spread to 15 additional states, which led to the federal ban last year.

Brian Sansoni, spokesman for the American Cleaning Institute, said phosphates in dishwasher detergent had a minimal impact on water quality, but after individual states banned it the industry was forced to spend millions of dollars to reformulate the products to remove the “workhorse” agent.

“We told legislators that people would notice a difference, and consumers have noticed,” Sansoni said.

Lori Warren, who owns two Appliance Pro stores in Lexington, Ky., said the phosphate ban was barely noticed by many consumers, who just thought their dishwasher was on the fritz.

“We have customers wanting to return a dishwasher or buy a new one, and we have to explain, over and over, that phosphates have been removed from the detergent,” Warren said. “People hate their dishwashers now.”

Warren’s advice, use Finish dishwashing detergent: “the little red ball does help,” she said.

Causing a Stink

The low flow toilet is another government intervention intended to conserve water that has frustrated the public.

Most have solved the problem by repeat flushing, which defeats the purpose of water conservation.

But for one California city, it has caused a multimillion-dollar plumbing stink, according to the San Francisco Chronicle.

The low-flow toilet has backed up sludge inside sewer pipes creating a rotten-egg stench, and San Francisco has spent $100 million to defuse the odor problem, including $14 million for bleach to dispel the smell.

That’s nearly nine million pounds of bleach going into the water supply that environmentalists there are now protesting.

Some enterprising showerhead manufacturers tried to get around legislation passed by Congress in 1992 that capped the spray from the nozzle at 2.5 gallons of water a minute.

Previously, bathers were allowed five to ten gallons of water a minute.

The more creative showerheads have three or more heads mounted to one fixture, which combined sprays up to ten gallons per minute.

But the Energy Department’s Office of Enforcement is putting a stop to that.

In a three-page showerhead enforcement guide issued March 4, the department essentially said that one showerhead means one showerhead, and that a showerhead with multiple nozzles constitutes a single showerhead and can dispense only a total of 2.5 gallons of water per minute.

But there’s a loophole.

The government has decided the multi-shower heads were a misunderstanding and that it would be wasteful to destroy the products that have already been manufactured.

So, regulators are allowing all of those non-compliant showering showerheads to be sold over a two-year grace period that will also allow the companies to readjust the design.

Act fast, while supplies last.