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It Isn’t Easy Being Green

The case of the missing 100 watt light bulb -- just for starters as we begin to face the next four years.

By 12.14.12

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Regulating to Disaster: How Green Jobs Policies Are Damaging America's Economy
By Diana Furchtgott-Roth
(Encounter Books, 168 pages, $23.99)

Did you know you can no longer buy a traditional 100 watt light bulb? Did you know you can't buy gasoline for your car without ethanol?

These are just two of the ways in which environmental laws and regulations are changing your life. Add to them the myriad regulations that will make it more expensive to heat your home this winter or cool it next summer. To hear the environmentalists tell it, these changes are creating jobs -- green jobs. But all the evidence suggests that more jobs are being destroyed than created -- all the while making the economy less productive and pushing up the prices of almost everything we buy.

The "green jobs" agenda didn't start with Barack Obama. It actually started under George W. Bush. But whereas Bush may have tolerated it, Obama is an enthusiastic fan. Over the last four years, we've spent billions of dollars on conservation and renewable energy. The supernova bankruptcy of the solar power company, Solyndra (with a taxpayer loan guarantee of $535 million), is only the tip of the iceberg. The Department of Energy has provided $13.6 billion in similar loans to solar and wind production companies.

If President Obama gets his way over the next four years, things are going to get worse. Much worse.

That's the message of a new book, Regulating to Disaster: How Green Jobs Policies Are Damaging America's Economy. The author, Diana Furchtgott-Roth, previously served as chief economist for the Department of Labor and chief of staff of the Council of Economic Advisors in the Bush administration. Her book delivers must-read advice we would be wise to heed.

Warning: the book may depress you. It is chock full of information you need to know, but may wish you didn't have to know. Think of it as a survival guide to help us all through the next four years.

Much more is involved that wasting money. The green jobs agenda even promises to invade your home. Take the incandescent light bulb, the kind Thomas Edison invented and that we all grew up with. The 100-watt version was outlawed last January. The 75-watt bulb was supposed to be banished this January, and the 60- and 40-watt bulbs in 2014. Congress has forbidden the administration from enforcing the law, giving incandescents a temporary reprieve.

The cheapest alternative, the florescent bulb costs more than six times as much and the vast majority of them are made in China. Not only is light bulb regulation hitting us in our pocket books, it is destroying jobs at home and shipping them half way around the world!

Oh, and florescent light bulbs are dangerous. They contain mercury. Drop one and break it and hazardous waste will materialize on your kitchen floor. Furchtgott-Roth is not making this up.

The EPA has issued detailed instructions on what to do if one breaks. First, you need to turn off your air-conditioning and heating unit for 15 minutes. Then, you cannot sweep up the remains with a broom or vacuum cleaner. Instead you must scoop it up with stiff paper and place it in a canning jar or sealed plastic container. Then, you can't just throw the container in a trash can. You must take it to a special recycling center.

Another disaster is the ethanol boondoggle. Uncle Sam spent $6 billion subsidizing ethanol in gasoline last year. This year the subsidies are gone, but a mandate has taken their place. The gas in your tank must be 10% ethanol and if the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) gets its way, that figure will climb to 15% for car models 2001 or later.

What difference does this make? The effort to put ethanol in our gas tanks has increased the cost of fuel, lowered our gas mileage, put chicken farmers, cattle ranchers, and collateral firms out of business, and forced up food prices all over the world.

To make matters worse, ethanol production may actually be contributing to the problem of global warming! As Furchtgott-Roth explains:

The more ethanol we produce, the more greenhouse gasses are generated in that production. This occurs because rising corn prices encourage farmers all over the world to transform their land from forests and fallow fields to corn, thereby losing trees and shrubs that capture airborne carbon dioxide.

Then there is the problem of mercury and other "heavy metals" released as fine particles in the air by coal- and oil-fired power plants. While the EPA is willing to force you to switch to light bulbs that even it admits could cause mercury poisoning in your home, it is unwilling to permit the tiny risks that accompany power generation. Scientists are uncertain that the new regulations will have any positive health benefits, but by everyone's calculation the costs are large. By one industry estimate the cost of the new regulations could reach $120 billion -- or about $1,200 per U.S. household every year.

I will leave you with one more scary thought: should the Democrats re-take the House of Representative in the next election, expect a return of "cap and trade." The last version of this idea would have imposed draconian efficiency standards on everything from automobiles to household appliances, raising their prices, and would have mandated greenhouse gas emissions per person back to 19th century levels by the middle of this century.

Elections matter.

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About the Author

John C. Goodman is president and CEO of the National Center for Policy Analysis and author of the new book, Priceless: Curing the Healthcare Crisis.