The San Diego Union-Tribune had some pretty strong criticism for the plumbers' union in a Feb. 1 editorial. The column, with the headline "Fake greens: From pipes to bayfront, unions strike a pose," took unions to task for standing in the way of wider use of chlorinated PVC pipe. The plumbers' union has long argued that CPVC has health and safety issues, but the paper called the tactic using environmental laws "to extort business concessions."
This week's unanimous decision by the state Building Standards Commission to finally allow California to join the other 49 states in using plastic water pipes in homes was initially depicted by some as a victory for the plastics industry. It is more properly seen as a huge win for consumers and common sense. Forcing builders to use copper pipe – the state's previous policy – added sharply to housing costs. Plastic pipe is not only cheap and durable; it's particularly appropriate for California. Acidic soil and water in fast-growing inland areas corrode copper pipe. How could it take a quarter-century for the state government to accept the obvious case for plastic pipe? After one wades through all the smoke-screen arguments about plastic pipes' purported environmental destructiveness, the answer is plain: because of the political influence of unions. The plumbers union sees long-lasting, easy-to-replace plastic pipe as a threat to its livelihood. When it sounded the alarm, other unions lined up in support, followed by the Democrats in the Legislature who put unions' interest ahead of the public interest without a second thought.It's interesting to see CPVC finally win in California, at the same time that plastic bag makers and polystyrene foam foodservice suppliers seem to be fighting for their lives there.