Lights Out: Zealots Lose Vote but Win the PR Battle

Before & After (courtesy of NRDC)

By a margin of 233-193, the House of Representatives voted this evening to repeal standards passed by Congress in 2007 and signed by President Bush requiring lighting manufacturers to make their bulbs 30 percent more energy efficient, starting in 2012.

The repeal failed to reach the two-thirds majority needed under the rules by which Republicans brought it to the floor (and it would never have passed the Senate, much less crossed the president’s desk). But it was a political field day for conservatives crying freedom against a Democratic nanny state.

And yet again, it has revealed strategic weakness on the part of many environmental and energy efficiency advocates who believed that rational airing of the facts was a viable defense against a visceral, values-based argument.

They told us about the energy, money and pollution that we’d save. They talked about LEDs and CFLs. They rolled out light bulb makers and descendants of Thomas Edison. And they worked diligently to set the record straight about the mercury in those curly fluorescents that many of us will never learn to love.

But they never managed to focus on the core argument and quintessential American value, the freedom to choose.

In fact, Energy Secretary Steven Chu actually told reporters that “we are taking away a choice that continues to let people waste their own money.”

Elsewhere, Chu labored to explain that the law does not, in fact outlaw the conventional bulbs that many people are already hoarding. Others tried to get the point across, too. But the argument mostly got lost in the sauce.

This is one of those times when advocates needed to hammer one simple message over and over and over again, and then hammer it some more. And they needed to take the fight over the heads of the Beltway media.

Dale Bryk of the Natural Resources Defense Council made Stewart Varney of FOX News look like a fool on his own show for mindlessly pressing his anti-efficiency talking points (and she did it with a smile). Unfortunately, this was the exception.

We never got to see Mika Brzezinski or Rachel Ray or holding up identical looking lights and explaining that this is your bulb before the law, and this is your bulb after. Or how about the CEOs of Lowes and Home Depot together in their blue and orange aprons holding those same lights?

If there’s one thing that should be perfectly clear by now, it is that facts are no match for fervor. Thanks to procedural quirk, the good guys managed not to lose the vote tonight. But the zealous partisans using this issue for their own ends carried the PR fight.

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2 Responses to Lights Out: Zealots Lose Vote but Win the PR Battle

  1. Pingback: You Don’t Always Have to Take the Bait, Either | Positioning Green

  2. We seem to have all forgotten the lessons from the book What’s the Matter with Kansas. Values, values, values!

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