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This post comes from Martin H. Bosworth at partner blog
Veronica Kennedy spends her days as an information technology consultant in Virginia, but she also has a passion for making clothes and products out of fiber. "I knit, crochet and sew," she told "I have been starting to get items together to set up an (online) shop.
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Additionally, I do a lot of commissioned work for baby clothes and personal gifts and whatnot."
Thus she was shocked to hear that she might not be able to continue her side business after Feb. 10. According to reports from other toymakers and craftspeople, the Consumer Product Safety Improvement Act -- scheduled to take effect that day -- would force people like her to pay thousands of dollars to test every children's product they make for lead content.
"I am really concerned for the testing issue (can't afford it) and, if it turns out to be just really broad-stroke legislation, the amount of loopholes that someone could take advantage of and sue me over," she said. "What are my rights? What/where are my protections as a micro-manufacturer? What in the world were they smoking when they threw this together?"
A groundswell of opposition has risen in recent months, with supporters of handmade crafts and secondhand stores banding together to protest what they consider excessively burdensome regulations. Handmade crafts seller site Etsy posted an open letter on its blog urging vendors to contact Congress asking for assistance and clarification on the issue.
"Our members would like to better understand how the CPSIA took into account these smaller businesses operating with fewer resources for testing and compliance," Etsy said. "We believe Etsy artisans are pro-testing and pro-safety; the problem is the prohibitive certification costs relative to their small businesses' incomes."
Kathleen Fasanella, who runs the Fashion-Incubator site devoted to improving factory manufacturing practices, set up a site called National Bankruptcy Day -- Feb. 10, the day she believes many businesses will collapse from having to pay for the testing costs required by the CPSIA. "It is my opinion -- not fact -- that the law is unsustainable, whether it's because it can't be enforced with smaller vendors or the number of bankruptcies. Either way, my opinion is that they will change the law," she wrote.
The CPSIA was signed into law in August as a response to the ongoing crisis of imported toys -- containing lead, phthalates and other dangerous chemicals -- being sold in big-box retail stores. Despite continual attempts by multiple industries to weaken the bill, it passed both houses of Congress by huge margins.
Sen. Mark Pryor, D-Ark., was the primary sponsor of the bill in the Senate. According to his press secretary, Lisa Ackerman, the bill is "not designed to close down thrift or consignment stores, or independent craftspeople."
"Retailers had a seat at the table throughout this process," she said. "The focus was on making sure major manufacturers were in compliance with the new laws -- we didn't want any more cribs and toys falling apart."
Pryor's legislative director, Andy York, agreed. "The enforcement priority was on big-box retailers, not small manufacturers and thrift shops," he said. "Independent product makers certainly shouldn't not comply with the law, but the (Consumer Product Safety Commission) isn't going to be banging down the door of thrift shops on Feb. 11."
The most common criticism of the law is that it may be written too broadly. According to Ackerman and York, that was intentional. "Congress passes the law in broad strokes, but we leave it up to the enforcing agency to handle specifics," York said.
"The law was written to give the CPSC interpretation on how to enforce it," Ackerman said.
Answers unclear
The CPSC has been underfunded and understaffed for much of its existence, most recently hobbled by a lack of a quorum and a revolving door of acting chairmen. That lack of ability to enforce consumer safety standards contributed to the proliferation of unsafe products on shelves.
Multiple consumer organizations have petitioned the CPSC (.pdf file) to offer more clarification on how the law will be implemented and enforced. "The vacuum of implementation information, as well as the proliferation of misinformation regarding actual testing requirements and the cost of testing is leading to confusion and fear," they said.
"CPSC must take the initiative to allay their fears by providing prompt, common-sense, and explicit interpretations regarding exemptions to CPSIA stipulations, guidance as to the realistic cost of testing, and education regarding compliance with the CPSIA for retailers, including thrift and consignment stores," they said.
The CPSC put out a press release on Jan. 8 stating that resellers were not required to test products for unsafe lead content -- but that "resellers cannot sell children's products that exceed the lead limit and therefore should avoid products that are likely to have lead content, unless they have testing or other information to indicate the products being sold have less than the new limit. Those resellers that do sell products in violation of the new limits could face civil and/or criminal penalties."
The agency also put out a request for public comment (.pdf file) on Section 102 of the CPSIA, which requires third-party testing for products, to determine its effect on businesses and individual proprietorships. The comment period closes Jan. 30.
Representatives of the CPSC were unavailable to comment on how the law would affect individual product makers.
Clarification needed
For now, it seems that the protests have had some effect, and the CPSC is working to modify the most controversial sections, ensuring that handmade-product makers and sellers alike will not have to shut their doors come Feb. 11.
But for many people living on the margins, who can afford to buy only secondhand or thrift clothes, the possibility of losing that avenue remains worrisome. Shelli Zink, a bookkeeper from Triangle, Va., said  she "never pays full price for anything, ever," and worries about the long-term environmental and economic effects of small vendors going out of business.
"(I) don't want to see products with lead or phthalates in the market, hurting kids, but what about hurting them by stifling the market, increasing costs, and more damage to the environment from an increase of waste to landfills and increased manufacturing needs?" she said. "There needs to be clarification. Are used items at risk? Craftsters? Small manufacturers? Is this an all or nothing or do we accept that the better option is small risk with small businesses?"
Related reaading:
Feds: Thrift stores don't have to test kids' products
New lead laws worry toy companies
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Up until now, the biggest obstacle to the sale of hybrid cars is that some Americans think the people who drive them are sissies. That may be true, but Toyota has sold more than one million of its Prius models worldwide. Honda is not far behind with its less expensive models. The Big Three could not fit all their electric and ethanol-powered cars onto the
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113" mce_href="">showroom floor at the Detroit Car Show.
Toyota now admits that the sales of its Prius are dying in the US. That is because of two things. One is that no cars are selling at all. The other is that hybrids are expensive. The price of all the extra technology gets passed on to the consumers.
US auto firms are getting into the "green" car business at just the wrong time, which is consistent with the rest of their behavior over the last four decades. Oil prices are moving back toward $30 and many economists believe this that will be the new normal. China and India have cut imported oil as their economies slow. Americans would rather ride bikes that drive cars.
When Americans do look at a new car, their vision is likely to be short-sighted. Gasoline is back under $1.70 and if oil moves down further prices will fall more. If a hybrid runs $5,000 more than a traditional gas car, who is going to pay that difference to save the environment. No one, particularly when the cost of filling up is down by more than half what is was last summer. Who cares what happens in 2015?
The green car revolution was based on the premise that the average man could help the Amazon rain forests and save money on driving at the same time.
Send a memo to the monkeys. The trees are going away.
Top Stocks blogger Douglas A. McIntyre is an editor at 24/7 Wall St.
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