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What About Their Environmentalist Brownie Points?

Since 2000, spending on lobbying has more than doubled, and from 1998 to 2009, lobbying by General Electric has been the third most prolific spender, having spent almost $184 million, according to Mark Perry’s Carpe Diem blogsite.

In his column today at the Washington Examiner, Tim Carney explains “how GE green lobbying is killing U.S. factory jobs." Carney focuses on a GE incandescent light bulb plant in Winchester, Virginia, which will close next July since GE is replacing incandescents with compact fluorescent bulbs manufactured in China.

According to Carney:

“GE blamed environmental regulations for the closing. The first paragraph of the company’s July 23 press release explained:

“A variety of energy regulations that establish lighting efficiency standards are being implemented in the U.S. and other countries, in some cases this year, and will soon make the familiar lighting products produced at the Winchester Plant obsolete.”

“The U.S. legislation in question was a provision in the 2007 energy bill that required all bulbs sold in the U.S.—beginning in 2012 for some wattages—to meet high efficiency standards.”

[ . . . ]

“So, GE gets environmentalist brownie points for selling “clean” light bulbs, and they also get to charge more for their bulbs. But there’s another advantage—they save on labor with fluorescents, because they make the fluorescents in China.

“Not only are wages lower there, but so are the regulatory burdens, both environmental and labor. The Times of London recently reported, “Large numbers of Chinese workers have been poisoned by mercury, which forms part of the compact fluorescent lightbulbs.”

But what about all that spending on lobbying? That’s explained in Carney’s column in the Examiner on Wednesday. He cites a leaked e-mail written by GE’s vice-chairman:

"On climate change," Rice wrote, "we were able to work closely with key authors of the Waxman-Markey climate and energy bill, recently passed by the House of Representatives. If this bill is enacted into law it would benefit many GE businesses."

“Most of all, Waxman-Markey would profit a GE joint venture called Greenhouse Gas Services, which deals in greenhouse gas credits, products that have value only if a cap-and-trade bill like Waxman-Markey passes.
The leaked e-mail shows how tightly GE connects PAC contributions and lobbying efforts. "Our Company is heavily impacted by a number of issues pending in Washington this fall," Rice wrote.

Rent seeking? As economist David Henderson writes at the Concise Encyclopedia of Economics:

“People are said to seek rents when they try to obtain benefits for themselves through the political arena. They typically do so by getting a subsidy for a good they produce or for being in a particular class of people, by getting a tariff on a good they produce, or by getting a special regulation that hampers their competitors.”

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