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Michelle Bachmann’s unconstitutional light-bulb bill

Dan Farber, professor of law | March 3, 2011

Congresswoman Michelle Bachmann (R-Minn.) has introduced legislation to overturn the statute requiring the use of energy-efficient light bulbs, according to E&E News. One  feature of the bill is its escape valve:

Bachmann’s bill would allow the mandate to stand if the Government Accountability Office can prove the energy efficient bulbs would meet three criteria: that they provide real cost savings for consumers, significantly reduce carbon dioxide emissions and do not produce health risks for consumers. . .

“Frankly, I would be surprised if the GAO can prove these criteria, but at minimum, my bill will provide the opportunity to examine these important issues,” she added. “The American people want less government intrusion into their lives, not more, and that includes staying out of their personal light bulb choices.”

Why is this GAO escape-valve unconstitutional? The answer stems from the fact that the General Accountability Office is part of the legislative branch. As GAO’s website says:

The U.S. Government Accountability Office (GAO) is known as “the investigative arm of Congress” and “the congressional watchdog.” GAO supports the Congress in meeting its constitutional responsibilities and helps improve the performance and accountability of the federal government for the benefit of the American people.

The Supreme Court has made it clear that Congress cannot delegate authority to its own subordinates. According to the Bowsher decision, delegation to legislative officials is unconstitutional because only the executive branch can take part in administering laws. Otherwise, Congress would be in a position to aggrandize its own powers at the expense of the President. Congress can repeal the light bulb requirement (or not). It can mandate that an executive agency like DOE or EPA decide the three issues specified by Bachmann. But Congress can’t make the validity of the light bulb requirement turn on a determination by GAO.

Cross-posted from the environmental law and policy blog Legal Planet.

Comments to “Michelle Bachmann’s unconstitutional light-bulb bill

  1. good article LEDs Lead-free, mercury-free, no ultraviolet ray, no infrared, incandescent lamp and fluorescent lamp replacement is LED lighting

  2. This is an interesting read. In the UK, the use of energy-efficient light bulbs is pretty widespread in the home. However, we work with organisations looking to improve their carbon footprint and it is amazing how many businesses don’t captilise on big reductions in industrial and warehouse lighting.

  3. This is indeed a scathing indictment; however, it begs the question, “Why did it take the Republican congresswoman and former Congressman Ernest Istook of Oklahoma two years to uncover and expose the pre-funding of 105 billion dollars?” It seems that the chickens are coming home to roost after all. The Democrats stole Uncle Sam’s car and took it for a joy ride while the Republicans were asleep at the gate. And now Ms. Bachmann cries, “Fowl!”

  4. I thought this woman was holding “Constitution education classes” for new members. Does she not read it herself? Or is she, like Palin, just a person who intuitively understands the Constitution because God explains things to them? These two have done more damage to the US in the past two years than anyone thought imaginable. Add to them Walker, Boehner, Kacish, and Snyder in Michigan, and you have the recipe for disaster. And all this time they’ve been telling us we have to worry about Obama. It’s the GOP who is going to send this country into the gutter. Nice spin, righties.

  5. Thanks Dan,
    I was curious about that — an interesting attempt all the same!

    about the unpublicised industrial politics behind the USA ban on simple incandescent light bulbs
    see website on Why lightbulb regulations are wrong
    with documentation and copies of official communications.

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