The CPSC is on the hot seat over its testing and certification stay . . . again. As you may recall, the CPSC first postponed mandatory testing just ahead of its scheduled implementation in February 2009. On January 30, 2009, the Commission acted to push out the effectiveness of the CPSIA testing and certification requirement by one year, to February 10, 2010. Then-Acting Chairman Nancy Nord noted that the stay "provides breathing space to get in place some of the rules needed for implementation".
Well, that didn't work, so on December 17, 2009, the Commission again pushed out the testing and certification effectiveness date to February 10, 2011. This early action was done in recognition of industry's need for to plan for changes in requirements. Nonetheless, Dems on the Commission bemoaned the need to extend the stay:
Robert Adler: "While I had originally hoped the Commission and the marketplace would both be prepared for the lifting of this stay of enforcement, after thorough consultation with CPSC staff and stakeholders in both industry and the public health community, I believe an extension of another six months is necessary to permit market adjustments, especially with respect to the testing and certification by the suppliers of components. I respectfully disagree, however, with my colleagues who have chosen to extend the stay beyond August 10, 2010. While there will be some disruption in the marketplace no matter which date is chosen, no hard evidence has been brought to my attention that would require an even longer extension of this stay than two years from the passage of this landmark legislation. I recognize that others feel differently."
Perhaps Mr. Adler has uncovered some "hard evidence" by now. Scroll forward six months and things aren't going the CPSC's way. While the Commission may have thought it reserved enough time for everyone to "adjust" to the testing requirements, in fact things are getting worse. Rules are piling higher and higher, and are still being issued and changed. Many people don't feel the rules are survivable. Dan Marshall of the HTA testified at the April 29th hearing that his organization sees the CPSEA (the Waxman Amendment) as their only chance to survive the lifting of the testing stay. [My opinion - the Waxman Amendment won't help the HTA at all.]
More recently, the HTA sent a letter to the House Energy and Commerce Committee stating: "Finally, we hope to settle any confusion regarding our intent in endorsing the CPSEA. We endorsed it as our only available alternative. We truly believe that many of our members will be forced out of business after February 10, 2011 without meaningful, clear reform provided by your committee. . . . You hold the livelihoods of hundreds of small businesses in your hands."
Not surprisingly, there is mounting background pressure on the CPSC to push out the testing stay for another year. Nevertheless, I surmise that Dems on the Commission would rather eat dirt (40 ppm lead) than take this step. They invested a lot of political capital in the last stay extension, and despite the promulgation of (literally) reams of regulations, still haven't put in place a workable regulatory scheme yet. Retailers are telling the CPSC privately that without prompt relief from the CPSC or Congress, they are going to have to start turning the screws on their suppliers as though the stay won't be lifted. Hmmm.
The pressure is building, building. It doesn't help that Waxman and his supporters won't budge an inch on their proposed CPSIA amendment. By moving in a pack led by Waxman, the Dems are collectively taking full ownership of the awful consequences of the law.
And what if the Commission capitulates and extends the stay? That's good for the industry and the HTA, certainly, but it's political suicide for the Dems. They face a real Hobson's Choice. If the stay is extended, it will be taken as an admission that the CPSIA simply cannot be implemented. That would really stick it to Mr. Waxman, patron of the Dems on the Commission. After all, if the law isn't "ready" for full implementation for FOUR YEARS, it's logical to conclude the CPSIA won't ever work, that it was fundamentally flawed from the beginning. [Where have I heard that before???] If the Commission declines to extend the stay, manufacturers and retailers will light the world afire over the pain and losses being foisted needlessly on them. HTA members and other small businesses will start to close down. Ugly. The choice is lose-lose.
The stakes are even higher for the Dems, if you take into account Mr. Waxman's REAL baby, TSCA reform. The Dems have a big target in mind, the "reform" of chemical regulation in this country. Put simply, they want to roll out CPSIA-style regulation to all things chemical, including plastics and all mixtures of chemicals. This scares a lot of people, given the permi-chaos dogging CPSIA precautionary regulation of only two substances (lead and phthalates). Arguably, the CPSIA was just a trial balloon for TSCA reform. Ramp up the CPSIA by 30,000 times and you have TSCA reform. If the Dems give an inch on the CPSIA, they fear their hopes for TSCA reform will go down the drain. The children's product industry is caught in the middle of a historic fight over how we Americans regulate ourselves.
If you are frustrated by the stalemate over the Waxman Amendment, I think you need to keep an eye on the testing stay. Every day that passes, the pressure mounts on the Waxmanis and the Commission. What's the right thing to do? They sweat and they sweat . . . while we roast.