Bright Idea: Use Common Sense

Bright Idea: Use Common Sense

This piece was originally published in the February 2017 issue of electroindustry.

Senator Rob Portman (R-OH)

Orville and Wilbur Wright in Kitty Hawk, NC, December 1903

Nobody can out-innovate the American worker. Americans like the Wright Brothers of Dayton, Ohio, Thomas Edison of Milan, Ohio, and Cleveland’s Lew Urry—inventor of the alkaline battery—have changed the world and made all of our daily lives better.

The United States is the world leader in energy production and in science and technology. With our highly skilled workforce, we have every reason to believe that we will stay at the leading edge. But we have to ensure that regulations are helping—not hurting—the workers who make us the best. The federal government ought to be a partner with them, not a taskmaster.

There are numerous examples of regulations that make it harder for workers to continue innovating and give an unfair advantage to our competitors overseas. The electrical manufacturing industry knows this all too well: a prime example is the Department of Energy’s (DOE) energy efficiency rules for certain power supplies.

Energy efficiency is critical to our economy, and I’m a big supporter of legislative efforts to help American manufacturers use energy more wisely. I authored the Energy Efficiency Improvement Act of 2015, which President Obama signed into law.

Updating Outdated Regulations

I believe that we should be making more energy and using less—those ideas go hand in hand. But we must promote energy efficiency in a way that doesn’t get in the way of job creation. So while I agree with the goals of these regulations, I think they were written in a sloppy way that makes them hard to comply with.

Here’s what happened. In 2005, Congress told the DOE to set energy use standards for external power supplies, i.e., those that plug an appliance into a wall outlet. The goal was to focus on products, such as laptops and smartphones, that use household electric current.

After that law was passed, the industry continued innovating and developed light-emitting diodes (LEDs), which produce light but do not get hot as incandescent bulbs do. Meanwhile, the ceiling fan industry began producing fans powered by motors that used a different kind of current than is commonly used in external power supplies.

The DOE’s regulations—issued in 2014—treat power supplies for LEDs and ceiling fans the same way they treat power supplies for laptops and smartphones, even though they are different and Congress could not have had them in mind when writing the law. Now manufacturers of LEDs and ceiling fans spend time and resources complying with or appealing these regulations, rather than hiring new workers or investing in making their products better.

The DOE should use common sense when writing these regulations and let these American manufacturers get back to doing what they do best: creating jobs and building things.

Congress can fix this problem by passing legislation I’ve introduced with Democratic Senators Jeanne Shaheen and Maria Cantwell to make that commonsense but critical distinction between LEDs and power ceiling fans and devices using exterior power supplies. We still want strong energy efficiency regulations; we just want the DOE to come up with separate regulations for these new technologies.

The Senate passed our bill last year, but it did not make it to the president’s desk before the end of the year. I’m hopeful that, with a new Congress and a new president, we will get this legislation over the finish line and into law so that we can create more and better manufacturing jobs in the United States. That would be a bright idea.

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