REVIEW & OUTLOOK
JULY 20, 2011
Toying With Deregulation
Another agency ignores Mr. Obama's executive order.
Here's a question for White House regulatory czar Cass Sunstein: Do Presidential executive orders mean anything? Only last week President Obama asked independent agencies to examine existing rules and get rid of the duds, but nobody is listening.
Within days of the executive order, the Consumer Product Safety Commission voted 3-2 that it is "technologically feasible" to impose a lower limit on lead content in children's products, reducing the level to 100 parts per million from 300 parts per million. The new limit, which will go into effect August 14, will mean one more round of hair-pulling for small business owners who will have to change their manufacturing processes and junk existing products that don't meet the new standard. The three votes in favor came from Mr. Obama's chairwoman Inez Tenenbaum and two other Democratic commissioners.
The Consumer Product Safety Improvement Act passed in 2008 in a frenzy of concern over lead content in toys from China, and it has since tormented anyone who makes or sells bicycles, books, children's jewelry and so much more. Its strictures have imposed costs for testing, recalls and other inconveniences without any reasonable correlation to the risks to children. "No sweetheart, don't eat that bicycle!"
According to the CPSC, the plan to require that products be 99.99% lead free is reasonable because manufacturers would still be able to find materials and because some products already comply. While the additional safety gain will be negligible, the change will do damage in other ways, causing companies to avoid recycled metal and plastic, which may contain higher amounts of lead. It will also raise costs for metal parts, potentially driving some businesses to substitute plastic for metal, or stop producing children's products. In the bicycle industry, a quarter of manufacturers have stopped making kids bikes.
Instead of fixing its manifest flaws, Congressional Democrats who wrote the law have shrugged off small business complaints and opposed any changes. Energy and Commerce Chairman Fred Upton and Commerce, Manufacturing and Trade Subcommittee Chair Mary Bono Mack introduced reforms earlier this year that would revise the law and give the CPSC greater authority to make regulation decisions based on actual risk. The bill is waiting for a mark-up at full committee but any reprieve would likely come too late for businesses facing the mid-August deadline.
Mr. Obama's recent executive order is voluntary, but the President told agency heads that getting rid of red tape was an opportunity to "forge a 21st-century regulatory system that makes our economy stronger and more competitive." Perhaps Mr. Sunstein will tell toy makers it's the thought that counts.