California's Regulatory Fantasyland: Brass and Lead Edition

Last night was one of those nights when I was mad as hell at the California State government and their foolish, micro-managing, Big-Nanny ways. (Caution, dear reader, such rage at the machine has been known to cause the temporary insanity of running for public office.)

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The cause of my extended rant? AB 1953, a law passed in 2006 that goes into effect on January 1, 2010, the purpose of which was to define lead-free plumbing from 4% in fixtures down to the European Union standard of 0.25%. Not that the science supported this change. Once lead was removed as a gasoline additive, taken out of paints, and removed from plumbing (the Latin word for plumbing is where we get the chemical symbol for lead: Pb), human lead exposure dropped significantly. Having a small percentage of lead bound up in a brass alloy plumbing fixture isn’t going to add a statistically meaningful amount of lead exposure to anyone.

Today’s story began when my family bought a 4-bedroom house in Irvine in 1998. The house, built in 1979, had the original chrome-plated sink fixtures when we moved in. As soon as I could afford it, I installed solid brass bathroom fixtures.

Well, our master bathroom faucet sprung a very slow leak on the cold water handle a few months back. Having a few spare hours, I found the leak on the valve, took it apart, and trekked down to Lowe’s.

Lowe’s didn’t have the part, so I went over to the plumbing fixtures aisle and looked for a replacement. Then I looked again, and again. There was a sole, lonely brass fixture in the vast expanse of hundreds of makes and models. I frowned. My wife, Diane, likes brass. She doesn’t like chrome. And, she really hates “brushed nickel” or anything that looks like someone took steel wool to a chunk of corroded pot metal, pronouncing it “antique.”

Then it hit me. The culprit was AB 1953! The floor debate over this bill came rushing back to me as anger built up in aisle 14. AB 1953 was why retailers catering to the do-it-yourself crowd were manifesting the changes demanded by this law. The result: traditional brass plumbing fixtures are vanishing quickly as they will be illegal in California next month and the low-lead brass manufacturers have yet to meet demand.

I debated against AB 1953 as it passed the Assembly for the first time on a 41-37 vote, the minimum needed to pass. It went to the senate, was amended, and passed 21-18, again, with no votes to spare, always a sign of a particularly bad bill in the very leftwing California Legislature. The bill came back to the Assembly for final passage: 42-36. In its three floor votes, AB 1953 only picked up one Republican “aye,” but, as he does with depressing frequency, Governor Schwarzenegger signed the bill anyway.

So, here we are in California, a state with America’s fourth-highest unemployment rate; a state losing 3,000 productive, tax-paying citizens every week to places such as business-friendly Texas. But, a state carrying 32% of the nation’s welfare caseload with what Forbes Magazine calls the 50th worst business tax and regulatory climate in the nation; and a state with a legislature that thinks nothing of layering new rules on top of new rules in the constant quest to make California the most perfect state in which no one can afford to live or find a job.

Coming soon? An eBay-enabled California black market in brass plumbing-fixtures and normal-flow toilets and shower heads.

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