Just a week ago I had a post featuring some recent federal bureaucratic assaults against the well-being and prosperity of the population. The title was “Bureaucrats Completely Incapable Of Making Reasonable Trade-Offs.” The post featured two new rules from different corners of the federal bureaucracy, both announced on May 5: one from EPA effectively mandating electric automobiles by about 2032, and the other from the Department of Energy once again lowering the amounts of energy and water that dishwashers are allowed to use.
I stated in that post that these two new rules were just examples of a much broader federal war against our comfortable and convenient lifestyles. But to get a feel for the big picture, you need a more comprehensive list of the things the feds are trying to restrict and/or eliminate from your life. Now Noah Rothman comes along in the current issue of National Review with a much longer list, in a piece titled “The War on Things That Work.” (Although National Review has a paywall, you should get a free article or two per month, if you want to read the whole piece.)
One thing that Rothman’s list makes clear is that, although the regulations are principally rationalized as part of the fight against “climate change,” there are many respects in which the new restrictions have nothing whatsoever to do with the “climate” issue, even if you believe that greenhouse gases like CO2 are some kind of existential threat to humanity. For example, several of the restrictions in question relate to use of water, rather than energy. Other restrictions relate to the use of energy in the form of electricity, which in other contexts (like automobiles) the climate warriors call “zero emissions.” In the real world electricity is not “zero emissions” at all (because most of it comes from fossil fuels), but the climate warriors claim to believe that it is (because they think fossil fuels can be easily eliminated from the generation process), and if so, reducing the electricity use of various gadgets and appliances is also not a “climate” issue at all.
To underscore the point that most of these regulations have little to nothing to do with the climate issue, Rothman leads off his article with the well-known quote from one-time Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez chief of staff Saikat Chakrabarti:
“The interesting thing about the Green New Deal is it wasn’t originally a climate thing at all.” It was, in fact, “a how-do-you-change-the-entire-economy thing.”
So here, gathered from Rothman’s piece, is the list he has put together of some of the “things that work” that the government has currently gone to war against, or is considering going to war against: all appliances using natural gas (furnaces, stoves, hot water heaters, clothes dryers); hydrofluorocarbon refrigerants for air conditioners; dishwashers; lawn mowers and leaf blowers powered by gasoline or other fossil fuels; washing machines; incandescent light bulbs; and plastic bags and straws.
Consider some history of a few of these things:
The idea of banning gas stoves had largely proceeded at the local level until early this year. (The first U.S. municipality to ban new gas stoves was Berkeley, CA, in 2019. In April 2023 the federal Ninth Circuit threw out Berkeley’s ban on the grounds that it is pre-empted by federal law. Meanwhile New York has its own ban, put in place earlier this year as part of the state budget and taking effect in 2026.)
But the feds could not resist getting into the act. In January 2023, Richard Trumka, one of the commissioners of the Consumer Product Safety Commission, floated the idea of banning gas stoves on the ground that they are a “hidden hazard” because they cause indoor air pollution. (This despite decades of indoor burning of natural gas without any noted health effects.). That remark caused immediate pushback, including from Senators Cruz and Manchin, who proposed legislation to stop any such regulation. Chuck Schumer got into the act, issuing a statement on February 3 saying “you have to laugh at the ‘gas stove ban’ narrative being cooked up by the MAGA GOP.” Sure, Chuck. It took all the way to March 2, 2023 for the CPSC to follow up with a Request for Information, seeking public input on the supposed “chronic hazards associated with gas stoves.” The correct answer is “none,” but you can be sure that the CPSC is being flooded with input from environmental activists demanding that gas stoves be banned. As of now, they say that they have no plans on the table to ban gas stoves; but if you think that that isn’t coming, you are ridiculously naive.
Hydrofluorocarbons refrigerants in air conditioners.
EPA issued its proposed rule on this subject on December 9, 2022. According to the press release, the rule will “Advance Transition to Safer, More Efficient Heating and Cooling Technologies,” and will also save consumers “billions in costs.” Perhaps you are wondering, if the proposed replacement(s) for hydrofluorocarbons are really “safer,” “more efficient,” and will also save consumers big money, how could we be so stupid not to already have adopted these things? Rothman:
Put simply, the rule increases the cost of refrigerants, and those costs are passed on to the consumer. Even the anticipation of that increase has already made it more expensive to install new climate-control units.
Incandescent light bulbs.
Incandescent bulbs are much cheaper to buy than the newer and trendier LED bulbs, but they cost more to operate, and burn out more frequently. That’s a trade-off that different consumers might make differently. It turns out that there is a clear preference among low-income consumers for the incandescent bulbs, undoubtedly because of the cheaper up-front cost. Rothman:
[The] clear preferences of consumers, particularly low-income Americans [is for incandescent bulbs]. In 2018, University of Michigan researchers found that high-efficiency LED light bulbs “are more expensive and less available in high-poverty urban areas than in more affluent locations” and that the cost to upgrade “was twice as high in the highest-poverty areas.”
But the federal regulators are the place where elite preferences get imposed on everyone else, whether they can afford it or not. Rothman provides the following history of the light bulb regulations:
In 2007, George W. Bush signed a law designed to gradually phase out inefficient incandescent light bulbs. Barack Obama accelerated the phase-out by tightening efficiency standards via regulatory mechanisms. In 2019, however, the Trump administration rolled those requirements back, giving incandescent bulbs a new lease on life. But in 2022, Joe Biden’s Department of Energy reimposed Obama-era lumens-per-watt standards designed to finally bury the filament bulb.
Under the current regulations from the Department of Energy, the last date on which sale of incandescent bulbs will be permitted in in August 2023.
CPSC, EPA, Department of Energy. It’s the same thing for all of them: that indescribable thrill of exercising the vast federal power and showing who’s boss and making everybody’s life just a little bit worse by imposing your version of virtue by force. After all, you didn’t go to Washington and dedicate your life and career to writing regulations only to say that everything is already just fine as is. You need to prove that you are a big shot. You need to do something big. Maybe you could impose a lockdown. Failing that, banning some appliances that are cheap and work great would be one hell of a day’s work.