You'd think the public would clamor for a product that's cheaper, easier to install and just as long-lasting as the existing alternative.
Well, welcome to the real world — the world where a politically active union legally can buy politicians' influence, and where self-interest trumps the public good.
That's the story out West, where the California Pipe Trades Council and affiliated plumbers' union is throwing everything but the kitchen sink in the way of efforts to allow full use of cross-linked polyethylene pipe.
Let's connect the dots. Plumbers like copper pipe, and what's not to like? Copper is expensive and time-consuming to install. In an average home, copper costs about $500 more than cross-linked PE, known as PEX, according to the Plastic Pipe and Fittings Association.
But the plumbers faced a problem: National building codes list PEX as an approved material, and California, like other states, has a procedure in place to allow builders and homeowners to follow national codes.
So the plumbers' union contributed nearly $1.38 million to Gov. Gray Davis' re-election campaign.
Perhaps because Davis appoints members to the state Building Standards Commission, which has some control over the process for approving building code changes.
On May 2 the commission asked the state to study the environmental impact of using PEX pipe. Why study the “environmental impact,” when code groups already say PEX is safe? It's obviously just another attempt to delay wider commercialization of PEX in California, and to cast doubt on the safety of the product, perhaps by getting consumers to make faulty connections between PEX and previous negative publicity related to other types of plastic pipe and fittings.
That was the last straw for supppliers of PEX. As Plastics News correspondent Roger Renstrom writes this week, their trade group, the Glen Ellyn, Ill.-based PPFA, on May 31 filed suit in Los Angeles Superior Court to try to force the state to allow full use of PEX pipe.
Sounds dangerous, doesn't it — to sue the people you're trying to convince to allow you to sell your products? Well, PPFA figures they'll win the case, and that the state won't contest the victory — leaving the union to explain its position. With any luck, some local media in California will discover the case and expose the delay for what it really is: a greedy attempt to fleece homeowners and builders.