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Jon Fleischman

California Energy Commission receives “Golden Trashcan” Award for Proposal to Ban Big Screen Televisions

It has been some time since we here at the FlashReport have bestowed the infamous “Golden Trashcan” award.  As long time readers know, it takes a particularly onerous piece of legislation, or in this case a regulation, to “get the can” – but the dubious honor goes to the California Energy Commission’s (CEC) proposal to ban big screen televisions.

If you are like me, you may have heard a rumor about this, and dismissed it as being nonsensical.  That’s what I did after I read a brief item written about this by Orange County Register editorial writer Steven Greenhut back in March.  In his posting, Greenhut cited a statistic that under the proposal, as many as 25% of big screen televisions today would no longer be able to be on the market.  In fact, if you are looking to get a truly big screen – over 60” – think again.  All (yes, 100%) of current plasma televisions over 60” would be banned by this regulation.

I figured that this proposal, like that California Air Resources Board Report that talked about banning black cars, would be rolled up and put into a file cabinet somewhere – a bad idea conceived by some government eco-bureaucrat that would never fly in the real world…

But I was wrong – and the CEC is actually DEAD SERIOUS about punching a huge whole in the California economy, and severely limiting consumer choice in big screen televisions, implementing a ban on many of them starting in 2011, with even more being banned starting in 2013.

The CEC is looking to move forward with proposed language for the ban in the coming weeks – under the guise of “adopting energy efficiency standards for televisions."

Let’s be clear, however, that this regulation will hurt the economy, and take a big bite out of state revenues at a time when the state’s finances are in deplorable shape — not to mention the erosion of your freedom of choice to buy the television you want to buy.

The largest industry group representing television manufacturers, the Consumer Electronics Association (CEA) , invested in a study looking at the potential negative economic impact of implementing this ban.  According to the study, the state could lose $50 million a year in tax revenue and destroy 4,600 jobs that are tied to TV sales, distribution and installation.   Needless to say that when those jobs are lost, there is a resulting loss in state income taxes, and if folks end up on unemployment, well there’s even more costs to the state. 

The CEA study also points out that such a California-specific regulation is going to result in a drastic increase of purchases of big screen televisions over the internet (where consumers also can probably avoid paying California sales tax).  Just think about this for a minute.  When you get the e-mails from,, or — offering you free shipping and free return shipping if unsatisfied — why wouldn’t you order your television right of the net?  Especially if what they offer is not even available at your local store?

Make no mistake about what is going on here – this is a total assault on personal freedom and liberty like you would have expected from an eastern European country at the height of the Cold War. 

The worst part is that, frankly, the staff of the CEC think that California citizens are… well… stupid.  They have produced a frequently asked questions document on the subject of the proposed regulation to ban a bunch of the big screen television products currently on the market, and the second question and answer is too much.

Q:  Is California considering banning plasma, large screen or HD televisions?

A:  No, the state is not banning any type of TV.  Consumers have the freedom to choose any type and size of television that meets the efficiency standard.

To make a rather pointed case, to demonstrate the absurdity of this answer, let’s try phrasing the question and answer a different way.

Q:  Is Germany considering banning books and newspapers that are critical of Chancellor Adolf Hitler?

A:  No, Germany is not banning any kind of books or newspapers.  Consumers have the freedom to choose and book or newspaper that meets our new content standard.

The reality is that this is yet another centralized government proposal coming out of Sacramento that is really unelected bureaucrats playing The Sims, controlling our lives as if we were all creations of some sort of video game, limiting the choices of California consumers so much so that there is a significant impact to our day to day quality of life. 

The reality is that power is a limited resource, and so the more of it you use, the higher your power bill, right?  California families should have the freedom to decide if their priorities include buying a smaller or bigger television, opening windows or running the air conditioning most of the day, or washing dishes vs. using the dishwasher – knowing that what they decide to do may increase their energy consumption, and result in a higher power bill.

This is America, where that choice should rest with the individual, not with the government.  When the federal or state government passes laws or regulations that severely limited consumer choice, we bit-by-bit chip away at the liberties and freedoms that were won during the Revolutionary War, when American colonists rose up against an oppressive government that overtaxed and over-regulated the people.

By the way, for those who actually would like to purchase a big screen television that is more energy efficient, there is a federal EnergyStar program where manufacturers can voluntarily make televisions that consume less energy.  There are a host of televisions that are market EnergyStar (if you don’t believe me, it’s time to go to Best Buy – there are a lot of them).  This allows a consumer to make the choice about spending a little more for a television, but saving some money over time on their power bill.  The CEC, of course, derides the EnergyStar program in their FAQ document, emphasizing that, in essence, because it is a voluntary program, EnergyStar doesn’t go far enough.

I did note that the CEC touts as supporters of this program California’s three heavily state-regulating power utilities – Pacific Gas & Electric, Southern California Edison, and San Diego Gas & Electric.  So I dropped a call into a longtime FR friend who is a prominent executive with one of these companies – this person made it clear to me — after confirming that I would leave their name out of it – that the utilities are in a bind.  These regulations are being proposed and advocated by their regulators.  So they don’t have a choice but to support them.  He said it is now commonplace for the utilities to have to publicly feign support for “social engineering programs” because they simply cannot afford to alienate their regulators.

If you think this is a terrible regulation, and want to do something to stop its adoption, here are some things you can do:

  • Forward this column to every Californian you can.
  • Let the California Energy Commission know your feelings on the matter by sending an e-mail here
  • Contact the Governor, and your individual state legislators and ask them what they are doing to stop this.    
  • Blog on this yourself, or write a letter to your local paper.  The biggest challenge is that most people have no idea this is even happening.  Spread the word!

It’s not hard to see why we’ve given this proposed regulation our Golden Trashcan award.  It’s really terrible nanny-state governance at the worst.

The good news is that this regulation has not yet been adopted.  While the process of creating this regulation is starting, there is still plenty of time to derail it.  Like the proposal to ban cars painted black, if there is enough public outcry against this draconian ban on televisions, the CEC will back off.

Care to read comments, or make your own about today’s Daily Commentary?

Just click here to go to the FR Weblog, where this Commentary has its own blog post, and where you can read and make comments.