- - Monday, February 2, 2015

Americans ought to live forever, with thousands of federal bureaucrats hard at work protecting the health and safety of all God’s creatures. The various federal agencies have more than 3,000 rules and regulations now pending, most of them aimed at harassment and health, and the lights stay on late in the imaginations of the folks at the Environmental Protecting Agency, in particular, and at the Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC), where no doofus idea goes unconsidered.

It once occurred to the consumer commissioners that a toddler could easily (or not so easily) toddle into a bucket of water and drown. Pondering that awful if unlikely possibility, the commissioners considered requiring holes in the bottom of five-gallon buckets sold in the United States. The idea died when it further occurred to an alert and smarter bureaucrat that the market for “a bucket that leaks” might be a small one.

But not every idea dies a deserved quick death. The CPSC, in the spirit of Ebenezer Scrooge, last October considered how it could erase the smiles from the faces of the children and proposed new “standards” that would have eliminated many strands of affordable, colorful and decorative Christmas lights, as well as a certain lighted lawn figure with a big belly and long white whiskers.

The Consumer Product Safety Commission was so worried about an “epidemic” of Christmas light deaths — an “epidemic” that claims an average of about seven lives a year in a nation of 325 million — that it thought maybe America should turn out the lights. That proposal is still pending.

On a related terror on the disaster front, the five-member commission issued a regulation banning certain kinds of widely used phthalates — the chemical that makes plastics pliable — and did it without determining whether the alternatives were worse. Fortunately, sane voices are sometimes raised. Commissioner Ann Marie Buerkle says she is “greatly concerned that we are considering banning chemicals that have been in use for many years, and whose risks have been studied for a long time, when we know very little about the alternatives that may be used instead.”

The commission is thus considering a decision based on old information. In fact, if the scientists who wrote the proposal had considered “new” information, Ms. Buerkle said, “it would have completely changed their results.” Commissioner Joseph Mohorovic agreed. “I don’t disagree that the recommendation to move forward with this regulation is data-driven,” he said. “I would only point out that we’re driven by data which is outmoded, ineffective and insufficient.”

That a federal agency empowered with the authority to make decisions to protect the health and well-being of the nation spends that authority to save us from Christmas lights is, if not chilling, a waste of time and imagination. Before it bans something as useful and necessary as phthalates in plastic, it could use some of the time to gather and consider the latest findings of science. It sounds like somebody’s bucket has a hole in it.

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