Sunday, August 30th, 2009

So remember the CPSIA, the onerous new regulation that requires anyone who makes or sells children’s products to pay for expensive lead testing?

Last February I linked to a piece by Tim Carney explaining how the big toy companies had ratcheted up their lobbying efforts in favor of the bill. Carney wrote:

Mattel—whose leaded toys kicked off this whole scare—beefed up its lobbying effort when the legislation appeared. The company’s lobbying budget, which had been steady at $120,000 per year from 2002 through 2006 ballooned to $540,000 in 2007 and $650,000 in 2008—a 442% increase from two years earlier.

In late August 2007, Mattel, the largest toymaker in the world, hired a new lobbying firm, Johnson, Madigan, Peck, Boland & Stewart, to lobby on the bill. One of their lobbyists on this issue was Sheila Murphy, recently the legislative director for Sen. Amy Klobuchar, a Democratic member of the Commerce Committee’s Consumer Affairs subcommittee. Klobuchar became a cosponsor of the bill in late September 2007.

I replied:

Supporters of a massive regulatory state are often the same people who lament the ubiquity of big corporate chains—what you might call the Gap-ification of America. I’ve written a bit about this before, but what they don’t seem to realize is that not only are big corporations more likely than smaller businesses to be able to afford to comply with new regulations, they’re well aware of this fact, and so they’re often the ones pushing the regulations behind the scenes.

I’m pretty cynical about this city. As it turns out, in this case I was wrong. But I only because I wasn’t nearly cynical enough. From the A.P.:

Toy-makers, clothing manufacturers and other companies selling products for young children are submitting samples to independent laboratories for safety tests. But the nation’s largest toy maker, Mattel, isn’t being required to do the same.

The Consumer Product Safety Commission recently, and quietly, granted Mattel’s request to use its own labs for testing that is required under a law Congress passed last summer in the wake of a rash of recalls of toys contaminated by lead. Six of those toys were produced by Fisher-Price.

The new law sets strict limits for lead, lead paint and chemicals known as phthalates. It mandates third-party testing for companies, big and small, making products geared for children 12 and under.

“It’s really ironic that the company that was a principal source of the problem” is now getting favorable treatment from the government, said Michael Green, executive director of the Center for Environmental Health in Oakland, Calif.

Mattel is getting a competitive advantage, Green said, because smaller companies must pay independent labs to do the tests. Testing costs can run from several hundred dollars to many thousands, depending on the test and the toy or product…

CPSC issued no press release about the 3-0 vote in Mattel’s favor, and information on the vote was not posted on the commission’s Web site section pertaining to the CPSIA law.

So while small companies and independent toy makers are getting socked with costly testing requirements, the big toy company whose screw-ups were responsible for the law, who then lobbied for the law, and who then hired a top Hil staffer away to help with its lobbying efforts, was then able to get itself an exemption from the part of the law that’s going to be most expensive for all of its competitors. And the regulatory agency that granted the exception kept it all quiet.

Even by Washington standards, this is just nauseating.

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51 Responses to “Wow.”

  1. #1 |  Mike Renzulli | 

    From the AP article you cite:

    “While Congress mandated the third-party testing, the commission in January said it would delay enforcement for a year of some of the testing requirements for phthalates and lead content — though many companies are doing the tests anyway.”

    This and Mattel’s so-called “exemption” are indications the CPSIA may not be willing to enforce the lead ban after all. Either because they can’t afford to or they know the law itself can be challenged because of the CPSIA’s exemption.

    If Mattel is forced to comply with the ban despite using its own facilties, I guarantee you this law will not stay on the books for long nor will it last should the agency begin to enforce the lead ban one year from today.

    The CPSIA is setting itself up for a lawsuit one of which, I am sure, the Institute for Justice would certainly pounce upon.

    I know if I was an IJ attorney I would be sharpening the blades of my swords awaiting a client harmed by the lead paint ban’s effects to walk through my door to slice and dice this lead paint ban.