CPSC Commissioner Challenges Precautionary Principle

Most of the time regulators focus on issuing rules, pushing paper, and often making business more difficult than necessary. But every once and a while, good leaders emerge and offer sage advice — although their ability to change things may be limited. Nancy Nord, current Commissioner of the Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC), is one of the bright lights. Her blog called Conversations with Consumers offers many enlightened viewpoints on a wide range of regulatory topics.

Today, Nord has a blog post on RegBlog, which is based out of the University of Pennsylvania. It addresses the precautionary principle, noting:

Traditionally disfavored by American regulators, the precautionary principle holds that activities or substances suspected of causing harm to the public—even when evidence of harm is lacking—should be limited or banned until safety can be demonstrated. This posture is easy for politicians or regulators to explain to the public, but needlessly stringent regulation can be costly and lead to unwelcome consequences. And the CPSC’s mission is to protect the public from unreasonable risks, not all risks. The Commission’s recent use of the precautionary principle departs from its historic practice of looking at risk and exposure to assess a risk’s reasonableness before adopting safety standards or banning products.

She highlights the new trend toward precaution and the absurd path it has taken public policy using the  example of the Consumer Product Safety Improvement Act of 2008 (CPSIA). This law  forces the CPSC to apply overly precautionary regulations on the use of lead in consumer products, which Nord clearly illustrates has resulted in “out balanced decision making” on that issue. Check out her post for details.