Lights Out For the A-Lamp--and Jobs
In 2007, Congress passed an energy conservation law that will phase out the ordinary incandescent light bulb by 2014. This month 200 workers at the last GE factory producing the familiar lamps will lose their jobs.
This may sound blasphemous coming from me but we need to be careful what we wish for. I was very excited by the passage of the Energy Independence and Security Act of 2007. Finally, an energy policy that would increase energy efficiency, promote renewable energy and lead toward energy security. It focused on auto fuel economy, the development of biofuels and more energy efficient public buildings with an emphasis on lighting.
I'm still wildly in favor of this law; wish it had gone further and remain impressed (awed actually) that the 110th Congress actually managed to pass it. But an article in The Washington Post, "Light bulb factory closes; End of era for U.S. means more jobs overseas" got me to wondering about the unintended consequences of our environmental actions.
Here's the gist of what's happened. We expected that light bulb manufacturers, including GE, realizing that their workhorse general purpose A-lamp would soon be history, would ramp up to produce the bulb likely to replace them: CFLs. But, as reported in the Post, "Rather than setting off a boom in the U.S. manufacture of replacement lights, the leading replacement lights...are made almost entirely overseas, mostly in China.
"Consisting of glass tubes twisted into a spiral, they require more hand labor, which is cheaper there. So though they were first developed by American engineers in the 1970s, none of the major brands make CFLs in the United States." One successful Chinese manufacturer would like to open a factory in the U.S.--"Made in America" is very much in demand he says, but has been unable to secure a rather small request for government funding for the project.
The nation's "green economy" expected to create 800,000 jobs by 2012 has fallen victim to globalization and workers who had been making $30 an hour at the GE plant are facing the daunting task of finding new manufacturing jobs in this dismal economy.
I suggest that the answer is not to abandon the goals of the Energy Independence and Security Act--far from it--but rather to deal holistically with all of the issues bound together in creating our green economy. We can get there but first we need to find politicians with extraordinary vision and courage. We have less than two months to seek them out and vote for them in November.