Heads Trump Wins; Tails Regulation Loses

Earlier this week, the Department of Energy withdrew definitions of “general service lamps” and “general service incandescent lamps” promulgated under the Obama administration.  The effect is to eliminate requirements that such lamps move to more energy-efficient bulbs.  Examples include recessed fixtures, referred to, at least in my house, as “cans,” and chandeliers.

On this one, I’ll leave the legal issues to others.  To me, the noteworthy aspect was that DOE is defending the rule, in large part, on the ground that the rule isn’t needed, because the market is moving towards LEDs and other more efficient bulbs, even without regulation.  As a logical matter, that argument doesn’t quite work.  If the market is truly carrying all the weight here, then the regulations would not have any impact.  It’s obvious from DOE’s own analysis that that is not the case.  DOE is thus really just saying, consistent with this Administration’s general position, that the costs of the regulations are not worth the benefits.

More importantly, the rule seems to be evidence of the Administration’s “heads I win, tails you lose” approach to the role of markets in addressing externalities.  As far as I can tell, the Administration’s real project is to define the concept of externalities out of existence.

Thus, on the one hand, we have energy-efficient lighting, in which the Administration says that the market is solving the problem, so regulation is unnecessary.

On the other hand, where the Administration can’t even pretend that market developments are solving problems, they just pretend that the problem doesn’t exist, by making up their own science.  Nothing’s wrong and, if there is, the market is busy fixing it.

As I’ve said numerous times, I miss the middle, the people who do the hard work of identifying externalities and then figuring out ways to balance the cost of government and the cost of an unregulated market.

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