Monday, April 29, 2019

My Letter in The Times Lights the Way

It took more than two weeks, but The New York Times finally published my letter to the editor, online Sunday and in Monday’s printed edition. 

Back on April 12 two of Thomas Edison’s great-grandsons opined in The Times that “the Department of Energy now wants to roll back new efficiency standards (for light bulbs) signed into law by President George W. Bush and updated, as required, during the Obama administration” (

The proposed withdrawal is another example of Donald Trump’s demonic compulsion to eliminate any vestige of progressive action by his predecessors, especially if it smacks of any environmental benefit to reduce the impact of climate change.  

The Edison progeny advocated public and congressional opposition to any plan by the Energy Department to narrow the scope of energy saving standards. 

It was in that context that I sent my letter to The Times. With slight editing to my original submission, The Times ran the following:

“We cannot rely on the Trump administration to do the right thing when it comes to enforcing light bulb energy standards. Instead, private enterprise must lead the way.

“Large chain stores—Walmart, Target, Kmart, Home Depot, Lowe’s, Menards, Costco and Ace Hardware, as well as Amazon—should exert their public service commitment by not buying or stocking less energy efficient incandescent light bulbs.
“Retailers can shine a positive light on the future direction of our country.”

Naturally, not everyone is on board with any plan that would deny consumers the opportunity to buy cheaper 100-watt incandescent bulbs compared to more expensive L.E.D.s. In response to a friend who brought up the issue after seeing my letter, I wrote back, 

“Yes, it will cost more and the poor would be disproportionately hurt. But just as we have required seat belts in cars at a higher cost, just as we require food safety inspections that raise the price of food, just as we have tolls on roads that make travel costlier, there are some mandates that are put in place for the common good. Call it totalitarianism. Or socialism. Or saving the planet for our grandchildren. Doing nothing is not an option for long term survival.”

Here’s how the Edisons put it: “Few actions can reduce the carbon dioxide emissions that are warming the planet as cheaply and easily as replacing energy-wasting bulbs with highly efficient ones. The group (the Natural Resources Defense Council) estimates that if every household in the United States replaced just one old bulb with an L.E.D., the country’s overall electric bill would be cut by more than $5 billion in 10 years, and two million metric tons of carbon dioxide pollution would be avoided. 

“The savings are so big because the average American household has around 40 lighting sockets, and many still employ energy-wasting bulbs. We need efficiency standards to spur more innovation and ensure that our store shelves carry new bulbs reflecting the latest technology.

“Regrettably, special interests have reared their heads once again. Big bulb manufacturers supported by the Energy Department prefer to take the cheap, inefficient and environmentally harmful path for short-term profits. They would sacrifice our common good for their selfish greed.”

This was not my first letter published in The Times. Eleven years ago, when Allianz was reported by The Times to be near to securing the naming rights to the then new Meadowlands stadium where the New York Giants and Jets would play, I revealed the link between the company and its history of insuring Nazi death camps. To its credit Allianz already had disclosed on its website its association with the Nazi regime. But The Times article merely identified Allianz as a German financial services company (no doubt that is how the company identifies itself in press releases).

After my letter was published The Times followed up with a major story entitled “Naming Rights and Historic Wrongs.” Less than a week after my letter appeared, after intense public rejection of the Allianz overture, Allianz abandoned its bid. Only then did MetLife step in to secure the naming rights (