The CPSC is stuck in a hard place, says Gidding — they're legally bound to enforce the law as written, no matter how flawed. If they overstep their authority by weakening it, they face possible lawsuits from the consumer-safety groups (Consumers Union, Consumer Federation of America, and US PIRG among them) who have been the CPSIA's biggest supporters. The law also leaves open the possibility that some crusading state attorney general could decide to enforce the testing requirements starting next week, even though the CPSC has backed off.
Truckloads of toys
Though last week's announcement was meant to give manufacturers a break, it may already be too late for some. Gidding says he has clients (he declines to name them) who have quietly sent truckloads of toys to the landfill.
"The manufacturing community is concerned," he says, "that, if they challenge the law, they will be branded as heartless baby-killers."
So far, the CPSIA's sponsors in the House, Democrats Henry Waxman from California and Bobby Rush from Illinois, have been content to let the CPSC take most of the heat for the confusion over the law. But there is some hope that Congress might fix the bill. Republican South Carolina senator Jim DeMint has introduced an amendment to narrow the scope of the CPSIA considerably, a proposal that might make for bizarre political alliances between South Carolina small-government zealots and hippie knitters from Somerville.
No matter what happens in the end, says Wilson, the consumer groups have lost a lot of credibility among the indie artisans, organic advocates, and environmentalists that should have been their biggest supporters on children's safety.
Says Wilson: "I'm canceling my Consumer Reports subscription."
Lissa Harris is a freelance journalist living in Boston. She can be reached at email@example.com.