The Staff Drafts a Rule
Following a directive from the commission, the staff set out to develop a labeling rule. The desirability and effectiveness of mandating information disclosure was not considered during this process; it was taken for granted. Since the commission had already endorsed the notion of requiring information on minimum clearances, the staff concentrated on two other questions. First, what problems other than the "safe distance to combustibles" should be addressed by the labeling rule? Second, in relation to each problem, what specific information should the rule require?
The staff took an expansive approach in determining the scope of the labeling rule. Almost every hazard scenario that might be associated with woodstoves was considered an appropriate subject for the warning label. Many proposed warnings addressing the obvious—cautioning, for example, that stove surfaces are "hot during operation" and that hot ashes should not be placed in cardboard boxes. Others seemed more practical, such as disclosing the conditions that signal overfiring and stating how often a chimney should be cleaned and inspected. Deciding on the scope of the labeling requirements was easier for the staff than determining what specific information should be required on the label. In the case of information about clearances to combustibles, the staff had to confront the same intricacies of test methods faced by UL. The safest minimum clearance between a woodstove and a combustible wall—the information considered most important by the commission—is neither readily apparent nor easily measured. It is akin to the gas consumption of an automobile. Just as "your mileage may vary" with different driving conditions, the safest minimum clearance for woodstoves varies by such factors as fuel type, chimney size, and, most of all, by type of wall materials.
The staff recognized the problem and attempted to sidestep it. They knew that the commission did not want to get into the business of testing stoves. The CPSC had neither the budget nor the necessary technical skills. Part of the attraction of the woodstove labeling rule was its seemingly low cost and simplicity—the agency could accomplish something without facing difficult, technical issues. The commissioners also wanted to avoid the kind of criticism EPA had received over automobile mileage standards, so the development of a CPSC test method was out of the question.
Instead, the staff sought to put the burden on industry, reasoning
that "because the staff cannot know all the conditions for which manufacturers may recommend or promote their appliances, the determination of the appropriate information is the responsibility of the manufacturer." How the "appropriateness" of test methods would be reviewed and the extent to which different methods would be comparable were questions left unanswered, at least in the first draft of the regulation.
The staff took the same approach with other provisions. Instead of trying to figure out how often a chimney should be cleaned, they put the burden on the manufacturer to specify how often. Similarly, the staff proposed that labels "indicate the conditions which signal overfiring" rather than setting forth an accepted statement. Stated in terms most favorable to the staff, the rule was a paragon of flexibility; in a less favorable light, this flexibility disguised the inability of the staff to write its own standard.