Friday, March 24, 2017

Get the Lead Out !

Following the last post on a hearing in Californiaʻs capitol to ʻget the leadʻ out of faucets, a member of the public interest team, Marlaigne Dumaine, recalled the drama and tension surrounding Randy Kanouseʻs role in that dayʻs committee hearing: "I will never forget that day. I was sitting in the front row of the committee room. The chair of the committee was relentless and tried every which way to get you to say that the parts of the bill taken on their own were not an issue and therefore the sum must surely be benign. But you were clear, no matter how the bill was parsed it was bad and no matter how you were asked, your message was clear. I felt extremely proud to be on your team as you hung in there for what turned out to be a very long and tense hearing. And you won. You won the battle that made the ultimate victory possible. The lead standard is now a landmark achievement for the entire nation."

A fuller history surrounding this particular victory of the public over a group of multinational corporations would reflect the multiple generations of advocates who battled with lead. This additive was a kind of poster-child for its inherent hazards to human health. Over many years, public interest advocates had made the California Legislature increasingly hostile to the proposition that lead was a useful ingredient in anything. The reality that lead needed to be immediately removed from faucets had many helping hands. Among its chief opponents was Randy Kanouse, whose early career with the State Water Resources Control Board shifted with his being named as the lead lobbyist for the East Bay Municipal Utility District, one of the stateʻs major metropolitan water districts.

Early actions focused on the use of lead pipes and lead solders with a consensus among medical researchers that even infinitesimal exposures were a cause for concern. Attention grew to include water faucets that were previously regarded as a negligible source. With no hint of his usual  element of whimsy, guided by his group of utility engineers, Randy Kanouse and his team emphatically pressed this opportunity to eliminate a dangerous and unnecessary threat to public health. The political dynamic was similar to other poisons, be they pesticides, plastics or petroleum as pursued by Martha Argüello, Bill Magavern, and a supporting cast of thousands responsible for advancing dozens of laws over many decades. Anchored in the assurance that citizens had the right to place limits on corporate activities (whether involving hazardous products or money in politics) and reflecting the work of numerous public health professionals, legislators gradually learned to recognize the inherent peril of lead exposures; especially for children. The upshot was the enactment of a law protecting many millions in California and beyond.

For other advocates lacking the financial wherewithal, the engineering expertise, and the wide array of political connections, and such a skilled coalition of talented advocates, a similar effort might take years to reach even a muddled compromise. Randy’s approach to lobbying was always impeccably professional. Outside of committee hearings, it was no surprise that among Randy’s favorite venues was the middle of Market Street in San Francisco, marching at an annual gay pride parade - another team effort involving hundreds of thousands.  

Randy gained the support of metal workers and smaller metal manufacturers to demonstrate that practical technologies were already in place to eliminate lead in faucets. The story surrounding the passage of the new California lead standard for faucets could fill a separate book. A group of faucet manufacturers operating globally with revenues in the billions of dollars, who naively underestimated their opponents, were furious with the new California standard. Its pivotal role in international commerce compelled a retool of their operations around the world. As was always the case in the Legislature, the art of the possible fueled corporate lobbyists with new energies to fight another day, even when public advocates had delivered their client such a resounding defeat.

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