Tuesday, July 26, 2011

CPSIA - Tenenbaum and Co. Thumb Their Noses at Obama's Executive Order

The sparks were certainly flying at the July 20th Commission meeting last week.  With access finally granted by the CPSC today to the video footage, I was able to see for myself all the excitement at that storied meeting.  I was amply rewarded with a display of regulatory arrogance you rarely see on tape - Inez Tenenbaum and Bob Adler standing tall and thumbing their noses at a binding Executive Order.  I guess the CPSC is now above ALL law, other than laws endorsed by Henry Waxman.

The tension in the room at this meeting was palpable, and the usual shenanigans took place, like Ami Gadhia's claims that CPSC Staff found that manufacturers intentionally add lead to children's products (47:31).  While I would normally take the scummy consumer group reps to task for their misstatements (lies?) and innuendo, in fact at this hearing, a much more important issue was "debated".  [Bickered over is more like it.]  Namely, whether the CPSC has to follow President Obama's Executive Order to preform cost-benefit analyses on regulations under the CPSIA.  I have previously addressed this issue in blogposts on July 12, July 14July 20 and July 21.

After the usual pointless sparring over the ability of the CPSC to do the right thing (don't worry, Bob Adler "agonized" over these difficult decisions . . . and then voted to screw industry), the meeting devolved into a series of often incoherent and inconsistent defensive rebuffs by Dems in support of their political conclusion that they can blow off the Executive Order to the extent that it threatens in any way their work implementing the CPSIA.

Of course, the idea of the Executive Order was to ensure that those rules are economically justified. Blah blah blah.  The view of the Dem Commissioners is that evidence of the extreme economic impact of these rules is not relevant to the CPSIA rulemaking process, notwithstanding Mr. Obama's little note.

Chairman Tenenbaum laid down the law at 1:15 in the tape:

"I'd like to comment on the Executive Order [which says] 'Nothing in this order shall be construed to impair or otherwise affect authority granted by law to a department or agency, or the head thereof . . . . This order shall be implemented consistent with applicable law and subject to the availability of appropriations.'  Congress was very clear. They wanted the lead limits at 600 then 300 then 100.  We have looked at this from all angles.  And I can tell you, consistent with the law, we have implemented the CPSIA. . . . Congress was very aware that we could not write regulations unless we did a Section 9 cost-benefit analysis in some of the statutes we implement.  And they on purpose did not require us to do cost-benefit analysis because they realized the urgency of getting lead out of children's products. . . . And that my legal understanding. . . . And so to have this fiction be a part of this public hearing, that we are required to do cost-benefit analysis under the CPSIA under the Executive Order cannot go unanswered."  [Emphasis added]

Take that, Obama!  Your EO is fictional!  Tenenbaum seems to be saying that because Congress permitted expedited rulemaking under the CPSIA, all regulations under CPSIA are shielded from any cost-benefit analysis mandated by the President.  She pins this on the standards established under the CPSIA.  Interestingly, she seems to overlook that the 100 ppm standard was subject to a rulemaking process, and the Obama order specifically addresses rulemakings.  She also glosses over so many other rulemakings which are remote from the standards.  Details, details. . . .

The Obama order instructs the CPSC to follow Executive Order 13563 to the extent "permitted" by law.  The CPSIA does not preclude cost-benefit analysis, it only allowed the agency to skip it.  The only direct reference to cost-benefit in the CPSIA is in Section 233 where cost-benefit analysis is specifically written out of  the Poison Prevention Packaging Act of 1970.  Cost-benefit analysis is NOT specifically written out of the CPSA in the CPSIA anywhere.  The Dem Commissioners didn't address this point during the July 20th meeting.

EO 13563 in relevant part says:  ". . . to the extent permitted by law, each agency must, among other things: (1) propose or adopt a regulation only upon a reasoned determination that its benefits justify its costs (recognizing that some benefits and costs are difficult to quantify); (2) tailor its regulations to impose the least burden on society, consistent with obtaining regulatory objectives, taking into account, among other things, and to the extent practicable, the costs of cumulative regulations; (3) select, in choosing among alternative regulatory approaches, those approaches that maximize net benefits (including potential economic, environmental, public health and safety, and other advantages, distributive impacts; and equity). . . ."  The President's new EO applies this verbiage to the CPSC.  Tenenbaum just blows it off entirely.  The President must be below Henry Waxman. 

Ms. T gets pretty snippy at points.  "There are people on this Commission that want to contort and use this Executive Order.  I have spoken to attorneys at the White House; I know I stand on firm legal ground.  And so please don't leave this meeting thinking that we are expected to do cost-benefit analysis or this Executive Order mandates that we do that.  It does not!"

Tenenbaum's argument - I am judge, I am jury, don't question me. 

Anne Northup notes that the stalemate in Congress is no indication that the law requires such harsh and inflexible positions by the agency:

"It's also clear that Members of Congress . . . are universally talking about, even the authors of the bill, changes that ought to be made [to the CPSIA].  The reason that Congress has not acted is that [there is disagreement over how broadly to amend the law.]  They have not told us that they think we should proceed in the most aggressive fashion and in the most punishing rulemakings and to take advantage of every opportunity we have to regulate more toys rather than less, more tests rather than less, and so forth. . . . All an Executive Order does is ask us to . . . take seriously whether or not we can find alternative ways of achieving the meaning of the law without the disruption in the economy."

Continuing the debate (argument), Bob Adler had much to say as usual.  As we know, Bob Adler is already on record volunteering to block cost-benefit analysis with his dead body.  [See "Is that a promise, Bob?"]  At the July 20th meeting, he proffered the reason why cost-benefit analysis is inapplicable here:

"My colleague asked whether there is anything in the statute that specifically exempts us from having to, from being able to do cost-benefit, and I think in terms of the precise parsing of the statute, that's correct.  But let's be clear:  it effectively in all major respects precludes us from doing that. When they've given us 42 deadlines to achieve in just a very short period of time, when they've specifically exempted us from having to do these incredibly time-consuming and costly Section 9 procedures, i think there's a very clear message from Congress there.  Congress in effect was saying 'We've done the cost-benefit analysis.  Now we want you to implement the law."

So, the reason not to obey the President - Congress couldn't have meant us to do a cost-benefit analysis because otherwise they wouldn't have given us so much darned work to do.  In addition, by reducing our burden with looser Section 9 procedures to expedite the implementation process, Adler says Congress meant to say that they had already "completed" a cost-benefit analysis.  Mr. Adler does not attempt to prove his point, his assertion being enough apparently.  I am always impressed by the self-justifications of regulators who claim to be able to read the "mind" of an inanimate body like Congress.  In law school, they taught us to follow rules of legislative interpretation.  That's so Old School!  Nowadays you only have to attribute a "thought" to Congress to "prove" legislative intent.

Of course, just a few days ago, Bob asserted something rather different:

"It says "to the extent permitted by law" we should do cost-benefit analysis. And I just wanted to say over my dead body would I agree to do the kind of cost-benefit analysis that is contained in Section 9 of the [CPSA]. That is paralysis by analysis."  [Emphasis added]

At that time, Adler seemed to believe that the words "to the extent permitted by law" require the agency to do a cost-benefit analysis only when it is convenient to perform such complex analyses.  Hmmm.  Does anyone think that legal analysis is just a bit "loose"?

Ah, but Bob wasn't done by any means.  He carried on (and on and on) at the July 20th meeting to add yet another argument, namely that cost-benefit assessments are impossible as a practical matter.  No explanation as to why this was relevant, as Adler already said Congress instructed the agency to not to do such analyses and the Executive Order is inapplicable.  Details, details. . . .

"One of the things that I this is intriguing . . . is where they say 'Now when you're doing a cost-benefit analysis, let's address all the deficiencies we have identified with cost-benefit analyses in the past, namely you can always calculate the costs, especially the short term high costs but measuring benefits is just extraordinarily difficult.' How do you measure the life of a little baby? Because usually what they [conclude is that] there is no benefit . . . that you can quantify from saving a baby's life."

So, apparently, it might be okay to do cost-benefit analysis (?) but it wouldn't work.  Congress must not have meant us to waste our time . . . .   He later challenged anyone in the room to tell him what the "quantifiable benefits" of two lost IQ points are.  Too bad the EPA wasn't there. They do that regularly.  Here is a quote from AOL Energy referring to this kind of economic analysis:  "The economic value of the IQ points and the benefits of reducing particulate pollution was estimated using 'long-standing, peer-reviewed' practices on the effect of regulations, [EPA] officials said."  Again, details, details . . . .

Adler noted that this IQ point information would be crucial to an argument on how many angels could sit on the head of a pin.  Thus, Mr. Adler sneers at the value and legitimacy of a cost-benefit analysis involving children.  As our apparent judge, jury and overseer, one must surmise that he thinks it's his right to make this judgment, notwithstanding an Executive Order.

Oddly, Big Bob does concede that the picture is not quite so clear.  Hmmm.

"I'm not arguing that because we've got a lot of work that Congress therefore said don't do cost-benefit analysis.  [Editor's Note:  Bob, in fact, that IS what you argued.]  That isn't all they said.  They said 'You know what we want you to do, we want you to do a Regulatory Flexibility Act analysis which is looking at the cost side of the ledger which is easier to calculate.  In particular, to look at the cost side of the ledger insofar as affects small businesses because those are the folks who are the canaries in the mine that we look to."  Adler goes on to retract this assertion, and return to his claim that Congress DIDN'T want the CPSC to do a RFA analysis and instead just wanted the agency to implement the law.  His argument here seems to be that Congress was interested in some sort of economic analysis but only a limited one.

Adler then launches into his final jab at blowing off the Order:

"I guess we do have a dispute about whether we have imposed this in an ultra-aggressive way or in an extremely thoughtful way.  I think we have taken the approach in an extremely thoughtful way.  But sometimes you have to do a cost-benefit of whether to do a cost-benefit and I don't think that analysis gets us very far."

So Adler wraps up with his "over my dead body" argument - he just doesn't want to do it. Take that, Obama!

Nancy Nord grimly assessed the sad spectacle we witnessed:

"This is an important issue.  And cost-benefit analysis could have been done with respect to our regulations under CPSIA but wasn't.  Whether that's a good idea or a bad idea, we can continue to debate.  But Congress did not say not to do it - Majority did.  And I think that's unfortunate and I think our rules have suffered because of  that."

I will spare you the late sniping between Tenenbaum and Nord, but if you like catty repartee, it's at 1:24.

With three Dem Commissioners in charge at the CPSC, you can forget about relief from the EO.  Nice try, Mr. President, but you've met your match. Tenenbaum, Adler and Moore are above the law and are on a Waxman mission that transcends our laws and the Constitution.  There's not much left to hope for with this crew in charge. 

Maybe the CPSC will be on the national debt chopping block.  Don't hold your breath. . . .


Anonymous said...

I was very surprised at the way Dems dug in on this issue. I would think they would treat the Obama EO as a gift not in such a hostile manner. It didn’t occur to me that this would be their response. Cost Benefit seems like a four letter word to them – endlessly tying up regulatory proceedings and thwarting the rules that consumers need and expect. Whoa….

Anonymous said...

The EO was issued with a wink and nod and gives the President a little cover when he goes back to pick up his report card next year. Anyone who thinks that this President is at all interested in backing off regulatory overreach (and the govt jobs it creates) is delusional. The majority commissioners are marching exactly to the Prez's tune.

Paul said...

Our beloved Mr. President Obama should be the last person to have any complains. After all, he is the one who nominated Ms. Tenenbaum. Then, with his appointment of Bob, his dems CPSC commission board could do whatever it pleases.

Does our President really care anything about the small businesses’ dying calls or he just wants to buy insurance for the coming election? I don’t know, but looking at the video, I suspect his dems CPSC commissioners definitely doesn’t give a darn.