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There was lots to be ticked off about in Tampa Bay this week

Political hypocrisy was just one of the reasons.
A rollback of energy efficiency standards for light bulbs is just one of the annoying things that happened this week.
A rollback of energy efficiency standards for light bulbs is just one of the annoying things that happened this week.
Published Sep. 6, 2019

Blame hurricane stress or the dog days of summer, but a lot of things got under my skin this week. Here are just three:

Let’s start in Pasco County, where a building contractor was accused of colluding with another contractor to win a $1.5 million school roofing job. Kevin Ryman, a member of the county’s planning commission, was also having an affair with the purchasing director of the school system.

It smelled so bad that local sheriff’s investigators spent eight months digging into the allegations. They found that Ryman had exchanged bid numbers with a competing company, which helped Ryman secure the contract to re-roof J.W. Mitchell High School. They believed they had enough evidence to arrest Ryman. Instead, the Statewide Prosecutor’s Office declined to file charges.

The sheriff’s investigators also believed they had probable cause to arrest the school purchasing director, Nicole Westmoreland, on a bribery charge. In that case, the Pasco-Pinellas State Attorney’s Office declined to bring charges.

White-collar cases can be difficult to prosecute. They take time and expertise. Even then, juries can have trouble following the money. The challenges compound if witnesses have a grudge, played a role in the alleged crimes or only observed bits and pieces of what happened, all of which could have clouded the Pasco case.

You could argue that Ryman and Westmoreland have suffered enough. He resigned from the planning commission. She left the school district. They were both humiliated. But it feels like they got away with something.

RELATED STORY: Tampa Bay politicians should avoid looking shady.

* * *

I often wonder if something about politics blinds elected officials on both sides of the aisle to obvious hypocrisy. The latest example involves the Republican-controlled state House and Hillsborough County’s transportation tax.

Last year, Hillsborough residents voted to raise the sales tax to pay for transportation projects. You can argue the pros and cons of increasing taxes, but 57 percent of voters wanted to free up more money to pay for road, transit, and pedestrian and bike projects. Opponents sued, arguing the tax was unconstitutional and that the amendment’s wording was unclear. A lawyer for the Florida House went a step further, calling the language “deceptive,” in a legal document filed Tuesday. Some conservative politicians piled on, too.

Flash back to 2016. Florida voters rightly rejected one of the most disingenuous constitutional amendment proposals in state history. Utility companies had backed the measure that would have restricted competition on solar projects, while trying to pretty it up as pro-solar. Few conservative lawmakers spoke out against the brazen move. They were essentially mute on what was clearly deceptive.

They don’t see the hypocrisy or they think you won’t notice.

* * *

Better light bulbs were helping lower energy consumption, fight climate change and keep more money in your pocket. Now, the Energy Department wants to roll back those strides, in a move that makes little sense, unless you make older-style light bulbs or run a power plant.

Congress passed legislation with bipartisan support in 2007 to phase out some incandescent and halogen bulbs. Many of the changes had already taken hold thanks in part to improvements in LED bulbs, which once cost many times more than older incandescent models, but prices dropped in recent years. LED bulbs can also cut energy use by more than 80 percent compared to incandescents. Less energy use means less need to burn coal or natural gas in our power plants.

The Energy Department announced Wednesday that it was withdrawing standards set to go into effect in January 2020 that would have phased out incandescent and halogen bulbs often found above bathroom mirrors and in recessed fixtures, three-way lights and candle-shape lights.

Legal challenges are expected. If they fail, expect more pollution and less innovation.

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