Fundamentals 103

By Beacon Staff

In mid-February, news hit that dirt bikes and ATV’s intended for kids under 12 years old were banned by the Consumer Product Safety Commission. Why? They contain lead.

Where? Try maybe the crankshaft bearings, battery terminals and control-cable ends. Trust me, no brat clever enough to rip apart the engine before Dad finds out is gonna lick the battery!

So what brought this about?

As you might remember, millions of Chinese children’s toys with off-the-chart lead content came ashore and were then recalled. It was a crisis!

As usually happens with “crisis” legislation (try the Patriot Act, the bank bailout, and the “stimulus”) Congress “solved” the problem by creating other problems.

The result is the Consumer Product Safety Improvement Act (CPSIA), which President Bush signed August 14, 2008. Sponsored by Rep. Bobby Rush (D-Illinois), the 63-page law took a kitchen-sink approach rather than target Chinese junk.

The CPSIA implements a “General Lead Ban” that sets lead aside for “treatment as a banned hazardous substance” by the Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC).

As such, six months after passage (President Bush signed CPSIA August 14) the “lead limit” for “any part of the product” is 600 parts per million (PPM) by weight, declining to 300 PPM by this August, and 100 PPM after three years.

Any part. Got that?

Further, CPSIA mandates reviews every five years to make the regulations “more stringent.” Not “if necessary.”

The CPSC “may, by regulation, exclude a specific product” if peer-reviewed science deems so, or if component parts are inaccessible. But “may” is not the same as “shall.”

The next section, covers mandatory third-party testing and accreditation of same (by the CPSC, of course). There are no limits on the cost of said tests specified in the new law, which also happens to jack fines for violations from $5,000 to $100,000.

In short, CPSIA is pretty much a regulator’s dream. All power is vested in CPSC, which may or may not grant exemptions to its vastly-expanded new authority.

So how is this wonderful new law working out?

Well, the first order of business for the CPSC on the activation date of CPSIA was to grant a one-year stay to American libraries. Librarians must figure out what the heck they will do with millions of children’s books that contain trace amounts of lead in their inks. No testing protocol is so far forthcoming from CPSC.

Then came the ATV ban.

Ironically enough, a few days after CPSIA hit the news, Montana’s Congressman Denny Rehberg held a Kalispell meeting on the economy, where he waxed eloquent on the porkulus bill passed by Congress. Rehberg grumped that he only had 24 seconds per page to read the monster before he had to vote on it. Did he?

Later in the hearing, intrepid and esteemed Flathead Beacon correspondent Mark Riffey expanded on congressional illiteracy with a discussion of the impact from CPSIA testing requirements on small businesses. Mr. Rehberg made the appropriate noises of concern, of course. What Mr. Riffey was too classy to mention was that Congressman Rehberg voted for CPSIA. The House vote was 424-1, the Senate, 89-3.

Now, I can understand that if Rehberg, or anyone else, had actually read CPSIA and raised concerns about its full implications, he or she would have been publicly hammered as a child-hating cretin.

So, another expensive, dysfunctional law is on the books.

Can that be changed? There’s a group out there, Downsize DC, trying to find Congressional sponsors for the “Read the Bills Act.” In short, it would mandate that nothing pass Congress unless the full texts of bills, and of any laws changed by said bills, are read by the clerk to the “body of each house called to order and physically assembled with a quorum present throughout.”

If our Congressional yahoos can’t read the bills themselves, maybe we should have someone read to them – the slower, the better.