Wednesday, December 16, 2009

CPSIA - Commission Delays Vote on Lead Content Stay for One Day

In this morning's hearing on extending the testing and certification stay (the "Stay"), the Commission opted to carve-out lead content from the Stay. The decision on how to handle lead content under the Stay is docketed for a ballot vote tomorrow. [Just to clarify, other aspects of the Stay were extended today including situations where the rules and certifications have not been completed, such as ASTM F963 and phthalates.]

Frankly, the demise of the Waxman CPSIA amendment throws a HUGE curve ball at the Commission. Now that Waxman's fractious process derailed his attempt to "fix" the CPSIA, however ham-handed that attempt may have been, it seems that change is in the air. Will the Commission plunge on ahead with its big decision as though nothing has changed? Your guess is as good as mine. Unfortunately, things are happening so fast that events are literally overlapping - the news about the dead amendment came as the CPSC was completing its morning hearing. It seems to me that the Commission must now take even more time to carefully consider its next steps - this historic opportunity to force common sense change should not be squandered.

It seems equally important that the Commission reject partisanship and pull together, even if it takes more time and more debating (off-line and in the public eye). The poisoned partisan atmosphere of Waxman's House Energy and Commerce Committee sadly seems to have migrated to the CPSC Commission. In today's hearing, Commissioner Northup called for more effort by the Commission to reach 5-0 votes. What a timely call THAT was! The failure of the Waxman amendment can be interpreted as Congressional rejection of partisan control of safety by the Democrats alone. Over the course of the past year, partisan hubris led to extremism, culminating in a small number of Democrats co-opting the law as self-appointed defenders of the "will of Congress". Safety belongs to everyone - it's not political. The call to action now is for the Commission to act as one. Whatever damage the Waxman fiasco caused to working relationships needs to be rapidly repaired through the individual leadership of the Chairman and the other Commissioners.

The Commission has balloted Anne Northup's motion to delay lifting the Stay on lead content until six months after the issuance of the so-called "15 Month Rule". This proposal, acknowledged by Inez Tenenbaum to be based on "common sense", is not likely to be adopted without a gentle shove. Ms. Tenenbaum herself stated that manufacturers had asked for a "date certain" when the Stay would be lifted. [One can only hope that she was confusing a reasonable request for certainty, as in knowing what the rules are and when they will be imposed, with a request for a deadline. I cannot imagine who would demand a compliance deadline from the CPSC without knowing what the rules actually are, and if such a (neurotic) person exists, I would like to speak to him/her to better understand WHY they think this would be helpful.]

Even more worrisome, Commissioner Bob Adler contended that "Congress" wanted to be sure that everyone is in compliance with the law. [This personification of Congress is very troubling, especially since the Waxman fiasco makes clear that the original CPSIA votes no longer reflect the will of Congress today - or else how was an amendment by the powerful Henry Waxman stopped? This kind of thinking needs to be revisited.] Mr. Adler further asserted that based on feedback from small manufacturers, the most serious concern today is component testing which will be addressed by the CPSC's new interim enforcement policy. Adler was rather dismissive of the market impact of the 15 Month Rule beyond component testing and he even asserted that the VAST MAJORITY of manufacturers would be "just fine" with lifting the Stay today if they got effective protection for component testing. I question Mr. Adler's research on this point.

The lines are drawn for tomorrow's fight. Mr. Adler has stated a preference for a date certain of August 14, 2010 for full implementation of the testing and certification rules. Ms. Tenenbaum says she would vote to extend the Stay again if the 15 Month Rule is not completed by August 14, thereby signalling her approval of Mr. Adler's formulation. [Market chaos be damned?] Mr. Moore generally follows the party line so you can count him in, too. If the Dems don't move off these positions by tomorrow, we are looking at a date certain of August 14 for lifting the Stay on lead content. This would sadly be more of the same. [Makes you wonder why we all took two days out of our lives to go to the CPSC to give comments at last week's 15 Month Rule workshop, or even more bizarre, why the CPSC called for comment letters on the 15 Month Rule by January 11 - if the Commission is seriously thinking of voting tomorrow to lift the Stay without considering ANY of this input. So - which process is a sham, the workshops and the comment letters, tomorrow's vote, neither . . . or both?]

The problem with the August 14 "date certain" proposal is that the following matters have not been resolved:
  • Testing frequency
  • Component testing
  • Re-testing requirements
  • Sampling requirements
  • ASTM F963
  • Lab certifications

It was noted in today's hearing that only EIGHT certified laboratories have been approved for lead content in children's non-metal products, three on the West Coast and the rest overseas. Here's the list:

  1. Bureau Veritas (three China lab locations)
  2. CTC Group
  3. Intertek (two China lab locations)
  4. Istituto Italiano Sicurezza Dei Giocattoli S.r.l.
  5. MSR Laboratories, LLC
  6. SGS (one China lab, one U.S. lab, one India lab location)
  7. Specialized Technology Resources Ltd. (one China lab location)
  8. Union Technology Research & Service Center

For perspective, consider these long lists of locations for three leading labs: SGS (worldwide), Intertek (China list only) and Bureau Veritas (China list only). That's just the tip of the iceberg of the testing market (admittedly not all of these labs focus on or serve the children's product industry). One lab we use, not on the above list, reportedly can't seem to get someone from the CPSC to visit them to certify them for lead content testing. It's understandable - the effort to process all these (pointless) certifications is taking a lot of the agency's resources and time. The CPSC is just not ready to manage this enormous bureaucracy even 16 months after passage of the law. Eight labs to serve the worldwide children's product industry for access to the U.S. market by August 14 - that's a BAAAD joke.

With the Waxman amendment behind us, the Commission has a great chance here to focus its efforts in the right direction. The recent Omnibus Appropriations Bill (H.R. 3288) contains these instructions: "The CPSC is directed to assess enforcement efforts of [CPSIA] section 101(a), including difficulties encountered, as well as recommendations for improvement to the statute, and to report to the House and Senate Appropriations Committees, as well as the House Energy and Commerce Committee and the Senate Commerce, Science, and Transportation Committee, no later than January 15, 2010." This report should be the focus for the Commission at this time. The Stay is secondary to this historic opportunity, and as such the Commission should not get caught up in the moment. MANY legitimate concerns have been raised by manufacturers relating to the lead content aspects of the Stay. We are not all guilty until proven innocent - why can't these valid doubts justify taking the time to "do this right" (as Ms. Tenenbaum called for in a November hearing)?

With change in the air, the Commission needs to seize the moment and lead us out of the wilderness by calling for a technical amendment to the law. The January 15 information request is the golden opportunity. The agency should not simply respond with something designed to please Henry Waxman - that would fumble the ball. Instead, the agency must offer up suggestions designed to meet the will of Congress expressed this week - namely, a proposal to fix the flaws in the CPSIA while providing reasonable protection to children.

It's time to do the hard work. I am ready to help - are you?


Stephen Romeo said...

Hi Rick,

Appreciate the mention (I am one of the owners of MSR Laboratories), and just as an FYI we are on the East Coast (Brockton, MA). Not that it matters much in this day of FedEx and UPS, but just thought I'd drop this in.

Rick Woldenberg, Chairman - Learning Resources Inc. said...

Stephen, I appreciate your correcting this reference in my blog. I think it matters! The reference to West Coast labs was made in the hearing, and I didn't check it. Frankly, there's a blizzard of information falling on us from the CPSC almost daily. Hard to process everything as it comes in.

Please leave more comments!