Wednesday, July 6, 2011

CPSIA - Functional Purpose Exception Is All About Dollars Now

The purported Functional Purpose Exception in the last draft of ECADA is unavailable to all but the largest and most well-funded of corporate supplicants.  Is it even THAT good?

Let's start with the premise that the holding by the CPSC Staff that it is "technologically feasible" to make everything without lead at 100 ppm concentrations.  In other words, in CPSIA-speak, it is "possible" to make EVERYTHING without lead.  As noted previously many times, the term "technological feasibility" does not incorporate any concept of money or economics.  It simply signifies that it is possible in the real world to do it, damn the cost.

Thus, the functional purpose exception is intended for products, components or materials that are either not possible to make without lead at compliant levels (not "technologically feasible") or if possible, are unreasonably expensive or disruptive to make ("not practicable").  In other words, the functional purpose test boils down to this:  "not possible to make" or "possible to make but too expensive".  As previously noted, this is further limited to items REQUIRING the inclusion of lead.  These items are quite limited, generally they are metals only.  You'll never see the law reflect this metals limitation honestly because the Dems want to fool you into thinking this provision is something much more than it is. They don't want you to know it's not really for you.

The retort to my argument yesterday is that this exception will be a boon for everyone because you can use evidence from prior hearings (paid for by preceding supplicants) to prove your case.  But since EVERYTHING can be made without lead according to CPSC Staff, the evidence of preceding supplicants is much less likely to be helpful or even available to you.  Why?  Because evidence dealing with technological feasibility is a settled question now.  There is no need for further evidence so all those expensive consultant reports are moot.  The only evidence of prior supplicants that would be useful must  reflect on the question of "practicability".  How likely is it that you can use other people's data on practicability?

The pending draft reads as follows:  "In demonstrating that it meets the requirements of subparagraph (A), a party seeking an exception under such subparagraph may rely on any nonproprietary information submitted by any other party seeking such an exception and such information shall be considered part of the record presented by the party that relies on that information."  [Emphasis added]  In other words, you can only rely on non-proprietary evidence of others reflecting on practicability.  Of this, there will be none.

The issue of "practicability" is essentially one of having to take steps that are unreasonably burdensome in economic terms.  Each competitor in a marketplace has a different cost structure and sets different profit margins. This is very confidential and highly proprietary information.  Sources are confidential, manufacturing processes and innovations are usually trade secrets. All these secrets provide competitive advantage and will not be disclosed publicly. Furthermore, the disclosure of such information could devastate the market for the product, once profit margins or technical manufacturing data are disclosed to customers and resellers.  No one will disclose this information except under seal.  Many people won't even take that step, distrusting the sanctity of their most precious information assets once it is out of their control. 

So there won't be any non-proprietary information to share or use.  Besides, each case will be different.  In reality, the case for Kawasaki to use lead in its ATV engine blocks will be different from the case of Arctic Cat ATVs because their manufacturing processes, cost levels, manufacturing location(s), market position and so on are different.  Deciding practicability for one manufacturer sheds no light on another manufacturer because the entire question is one of economics.  Let's not forget, practicability will be determined not by whether ANY additional costs are imposed, but instead by whether the new costs are unreasonable AND unbearable.  That will vary in case by case, market by market. No doubt extraneous subjective factors like the Dems' paranoia about lead will make for inconsistent judgments of what constitutes an unreasonable burden.  After all, there's no safe level of lead! 

Nothing will extend from one case to another.  Nothing at all.

It is not surprising that this confusion lingers.  The original concept of the functional purpose exception (a lame idea from the get-go) was focused on the question of technological feasibility.  The ability to use other people's submitted consultant reports had some value in that case.  But since that question is now resolved, so the value of sharing the reports is gone.  All that's left is the taste in everyone's mouth.

Where does this leave us?  With no exceptions to the CPSIA, none, zippo, nada, nuthin'.   You can thank the ever-intransigent Dems for this terrible situation.  The functional purpose exception should be DROPPED and replaced with something actually useful to real businesses, before we all expire.  The House Energy and Commerce Committee needs to ask: 
  • Who are we trying to benefit? 
  • What problem are we trying to solve?
  • How will the new provision solve that problem?
  • Who will be the beneficiaries of that solution?  [In the real world]
  • Do we like the order in which relief is likely to be doled out?  Is it okay to design a provision such that only big companies can get relief in practical effect, or one in which big companies must be granted relief first?
  • How much will the process cost?  How risky is the investment in applying for relief?  Is the application for relief essentially automatic, or will it be a case-by-case trial in front of the Commission?
  • How burdensome will the application process be?  Is the exemption intended to benefit companies with small high-value product lines of 5-15 products (e.g., ATV manufacturers), or companies with broad product lines (e.g., science educational suppliers can carry many thousands of items)?
Let's get real about the relief we are purportedly offering.  Something good and useful can be crafted but not if it must followed the form of the useless functional purpose exception.  Please, Congress, don't play games - write a provision that speaks clearly and honestly about who will benefit and how.  After three years of this, we deserve at least something clear and understandable.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Rick, I think the problem is you have far too much common sense to penetrate the skull of any given bureaucratic bungler. It simply isn't done (that whole common sense thing is so passe, don't you know?). I say we have a "lead in" - you, me and a glass of well water, what say you?"