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When Litigation Groups Go Wild

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Many Americans are familiar with the admonition that they should beware of wolves in sheep's clothing. However, it is getting increasingly difficult to tell who the wolves are and who the sheep are. Take the National Resources Defense Council, for instance. According to its web site the NRDC "works to protect wildlife and wild place and to ensure a healthy environment for all life on earth."

But all isn't as it seems. This modest description of their group fails to reveal the radical anti-market attitude of this organization. Founded in 1970 in New York City as an environmental advocacy group, the NRDC has proven itself to be a reckless opponent of technological development and progress.

Few may recall when the NRDC's alarmist activities led to the "Alar scare". Claiming that the growth enhancer used by many apple growers - "Alar" - was toxic, NRDC engaged in a scare campaign that was so effective that nationwide apple sales declined precipitously and more than 20,000 apple growers suffered great financial harm.

Ultimately Alar was withdrawn from the market but the facts about its safety haven't changed. The amount of exposure necessary for it to be considered dangerous requires consuming the equivalent of over 5,000 gallons (20,000 L) of apple juice per day. Drinking anything - including water - at that excessive level would be harmful. But unfortunately facts were the least of the concerns of the NRDC.

Well, they are back at it. Their latest foray into the court house involves "phthalates" and two lawsuits against the Consumer Product Safety Commission. The NRDC is using scare tactics and the threat of legal pressure to manipulate the CPSC's scientific reasoning.

The first of these lawsuits involves a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request. The NRDC is accusing the CPSC of refusing to provide to the public its basis for determining the safety of phthalates. What are phthalates? They are chemicals used primarily to make plastic and vinyl soft and flexible, and are important ingredients in hundreds of products in our homes, offices and schools. These chemicals have been used safely for more than 50 years.

Both US and European governmental regulatory agencies have extensively reviewed the most commonly used phthalates. In the case of DINP, the primary phthalate used in children's toys, these government regulators have determined that DINP does not pose any threat of harm to human health or the environment. In 2002, The CPSC concluded after a five-year risk assessment, that DINP was safe for use in toys and children's products.

The NRDC was unsatisfied with the CPSC's decision, and began pressuring Congress to ban all phthalates, despite the scientific proof. But last summer, the Democratically-controlled Congress recognized there is no scientific basis for doing so. Congress passed the Consumer Product Safety Improvement Act (CPSIA) with a phthalates provision that was based on science and not politics. While the law bans a few phthalates that have shown potential health concerns, the law places only a temporary prohibition on safe phthalates like DINP, calling for more testing on these compounds to assure groups like the NRDC of their safety. But clearly scientific evidence won't stop the NRDC from trying to use the Courts to push their agenda.

The NRDC filed yet another lawsuit just this month in another effort to push their anti-phthalate agenda. This time the NRDC accuses the CPSC of failing to enforce the new phthalates legislation under Congress' intent. The NRDC claims the CPSC allowed retailers to sell "dangerous" toys during the Holiday season because the new legislation will not go into effect until February. But the phthalates in these toys were never found to be dangerous in the first place. The NRDC is dragging a government agency through an exhaustive lawsuit over a matter of weeks, when DINP has been used for decades!

Hopefully their fear tactics will fail again. One thing is clear, their cases against the CPSC is not likely to succeed. The FOIA rules are designed to give the public a window into the information used by their government, not to be used as a hammer to force the government to adopt the policies of special interest groups. And it was Congress' intent for dangerous toys to be taken off the shelves, not safe ones.

In a time when the economy is faltering and Wall Street is teetering, one would hope that we could put the brakes on the excesses of these groups, especially those misusing the courts for their own anti-technology agendas.

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