Monday, March 22, 2010

CPSIA - Tenenbaum/Adler Comments Revealed

A little birdie dropped off what are purportedly the comments of Chairman Inez Tenenbaum and Commissioner Bob Adler on the Waxman Amendment. This is one interesting document. First of all, it's quite secret (but not anymore). You can't find it on the CPSC website. Other members of the CPSC community haven't seen it and have been refused a copy. It also doesn't have Tenenbaum's or Adler's name on it so it has appropriate deniability. Oddly, it speaks in sentence fragments. Hmmm. In an era of greater "transparency", this secrecy is something of a shock. Perhaps the Prince of Darkness is at work here.

Among the "highlights":
  • The comments recommend incorporation in the legislative report of the consumer group belief system assertion that there is no safe level of lead. If enacted, this change would enable, if not instruct, the Commission to reason from this "principle" and presumably ban many safe products. The hypocrisy of this position (or its obliviousness) in light of the permitted lead in our air, water and food is part and parcel of the CPSIA.
  • The suggested report language clarifying the "no measurable adverse effect on public health and safety" will perpetuate the exemption morass confronting the Commission and regulated community. The comments state explicitly that anything that can be empirically measured will be impermissible, the exemption process will remain a hollow shell, a phantom provision. Why not just delete the exemption process and save everyone a lot of time, money and aggravation?
  • Tenenbaum and Adler seem to miss the point that requiring a warning label for a product deemed safe is fatally inconsistent. Why warn for something determined to be safe in an exemption process? They ask for more discretion - to do what? What exactly is the risk here?
  • The Commissioners note an openness to using a different term than "low volume manufacturer", such as "small batch manufacturer". This is apparently important to the HTA but seems to connote nothing of substance as both phrases are just terms or labels. I am stumped.
  • The Commissioners basically go along with the definition of "low volume manufacturer". As if to dispel any notion that they favor relief for small business, they note simply that the $200,000 revenue limit should be restricted to manufacturing or importing revenue. The fact that this revenue level is both absurdly low and that the provision itself is designed to be useless to almost everyone did not garner comment from Tenenbaum and Adler.
  • Their comment about the need to "assure" compliance by LVMs confirms my reading of the Waxman Amendment that it is NOT designed to change testing requirements on small companies - they must ALL "assure" compliance through a reasonable testing program. The "assurance" will require third party testing. Here is the comment offered by Tenenbaum and Adler: "At this time, CPSC staff believe that reasonable testing methodologies meeting this criterion could be developed for only a few of the CPSIA testing requirements and that third party testing will still be required in many instances. However, this provision could provide greater relief in the future as new technologies develop that the agency may be able to recognize as capable of ensuring compliance through reasonable testing methodologies." I guess LVMs can lump it . . . .
  • The comments clarify that "imminently hazardous consumer products" incorporate the definition in Section 12 of the CPSA. Here is the definition from the CPSA: "[The] term ‘‘imminently hazardous consumer product’’ means a consumer product which presents imminent and unreasonable risk of death, serious illness, or severe personal injury." The comments simply remove any reference to "being made aware of" - perhaps to avoid the implication that the CPSC has to act before it has "identified" the risk, whatever that may mean. Remember, current law requires going to court - the new language merely requires that the agency "identify" the risk. That's quite a change - especially if you are on the receiving end. Think baby slings.

The comments by Tenenbaum and Adler did not comment on the perils of the "technical" provisions in the Waxman Amendment previously documented in this space. As I have noted, Rumorville has it that some or all of these changes appeared on a mysterious and secret document sent by Tenenbaum to the Hill with her 20 requests for changes to the CPSA and CPSIA. This secret document has not been revealed yet. It is therefore no surprise that her comments would endorse the approach of the Waxman Amendment (as in the foregoing tweaks). Perhaps Rumorville is right that these changes were made at her request or with her consent.

Consider the noxious changes to Section 6(b) of the CPSA - Tenenbaum and Adler apparently see nothing to comment on. Did you realize that the Waxman changes permit release of information based on a phone call? Say you make a Section 15 report, the CPSC does some interviews, creates internal documents, sends letters and emails back and forth to you - and a plaintiff's attorney calls for disclosure of these confidential exchanges and papers. The CPSC may simply ask how quickly the lawyer needs them. Did you also know that this release can be done without notice or even the knowledge of the parties affected by the information release? Did you know that the new language even permits the CPSC to release information it knows to be FALSE? Due process doesn't matter when you are protecting kids!

Can you believe that Tenenbaum and Adler had no comments on this terrible provision?

Or, how about the problems associated with damage to physical evidence subpoenaed by the CPSC which are also the subject of a civil suit? There is apparently substantial risk that this would be held against the defendant (you) under a principle called "spoliation of evidence". What might happen? If the evidence is damaged, "[the] finder of fact can review all evidence uncovered in as strong a light as possible against the spoliator and in favor of the opposing party." Ouch - that means you lose, big.

To judge by their comments, it appears that Tenenbaum and Adler don't believe we deserve any procedural protections here.

It would appear that the "governing principle" demonstrated by yesterday's passage of the health care bill applies here. There is little need for Democrats to try to build a consensus. They have control, so bipartisan support will only be achieved when those with opposing views capitulate or are outvoted. Brave New World, I feel so safe now. . . .

Very disappointing.


Ben said...

Rick, if Tenenbaum prefers communicating in secret, why don't we file FOIA requests to bring this information to the public where it belongs?

Is it a pretty straight forward process?

Anonymous said...

I just wanted you to know that your comments and analysis are invaluable to those of us in the industry who don't know how to navigate or fully comprehend the consequences of what the CPSC is setting forth. I (and many others) have been following your posts faithfully for over a year. Please keep up the analysis and the fight! Spurred to action for this cause (often times by your posts), we are fighting where we can but have to do so via our trade organizations. I just wanted you to know that your time and commitment to this effort are valued.

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

Ben, love the idea! Let's see what we can make happen.

Paul said...

Rick, I am sorry, but there must be some misunderstanding.

Chairman Tenenbaum and Commissioner Adler are proud, well educated, prominent professional whom are appointed by our beloved President Obama to take charge of CPSC. Everyone, including my kid, knows The CPSIA and its amendment is a very important piece of legislature for CPSC.

How could these two prominent, proud, honorable chairman and commissioner be making their comment on the said legislature without having their voice heard and resounded over the CPSC website. Less to say about not having their names on the comment as if they are reluctant or ashamed to make known of their own proud comment.

This would not be the impression that they want own children, families, staffs of the CPSC, or people of American to place on them. Would it?