Eight WSJ editorials on the same topic. Is it time to get Congress' hearing checked???
REVIEW & OUTLOOK
MARCH 11, 2011
Get the Lead Out, Sir
Nutty test standards give Obama a real chance to help business.
President Obama has been on a campaign to shake his antibusiness reputation, so a good place to start would be to revisit the Consumer Product Safety Improvement Act, a mess of a law that has put new burdens on small businesses.
In 2008, Congress passed the law in a rush to do something after a scare over lead in toys imported from China. Its problems were quickly apparent, sweeping products from books to bicycles into the dragnet for lead standards. But while businesses pleaded, Democrats stood behind it as a pinnacle of consumer protection while blaming the Consumer Product Safety Commission for any enforcement problems.
The CPSC has done what it can to allay the fiasco of unintended costs and disruptions for small businesses, including staying large portions of the law. But as Commissioner Nancy Nord told House Democrats last year, the language of the bill is drafted in such a way that fixing all the problems is impossible because the "exclusions and exemptions process is not workable."
Instead of being able to focus energy on products that present real risks to kids, the CPSC's staff has had to regulate products that pose no harm. The likelihood of a toddler swallowing an all-terrain vehicle, for instance, didn't stop that product from being swept into the maw.
The law also requires the CPSC to propose the parameters of a third-party lead testing regime, but the issue is so mired in complexity that the commission has yet to set those standards. Under the proposed version of this so-called "15 Month Rule," Learning Resources Chairman Rick Woldenberg has estimated that supplying multiple testing samples on each of his company's toys and products will cost his company some $15 million per year.
It gets worse. In August, the lead standard is set to go down to 100 parts per million from the current level of 300 parts per million. Like the earlier step down, the new standard is supposed to be retroactive when it goes into effect, meaning that it will apply to toys and children's products manufactured before that date, which were perfectly legal when they were made. All five CPSC commissioners have said they don't believe the new standards should be retroactive when they go into effect this summer.
At a hearing in the House Energy and Commerce Committee in February, California Democrat Henry Waxman defended the law as "necessary to protect kids and families across the country." We wonder how he figures that, since the incidence of lead poisoning from toys made by domestic manufacturers is nil.
Energy and Commerce Chairman Fred Upton and Subcommittee Chair Mary Bono-Mack have said they will soon introduce a bill that would finally end a regime that has clobbered small businesses with ill-conceived regulations. If Mr. Obama wants to help small business job creation, he could agree that the government doesn't need to mandate a lead testing protocol for every product known to man.