Industry Response to Government Regulation

David Hillier, American Textile Manufacturers Institute
ABSTRACT - The American textile industry is feeling the deep and serious repercussions of what it calls "The Washington Regulatory Explosion." It is faced with ever-more stringent and expensive environmental and safety and health controls.
[ to cite ]:
David Hillier (1978) ,"Industry Response to Government Regulation", in NA - Advances in Consumer Research Volume 05, eds. Kent Hunt, Ann Abor, MI : Association for Consumer Research, Pages: 380-382.

Advances in Consumer Research Volume 5, 1978      Pages 380-382


David Hillier, American Textile Manufacturers Institute


The American textile industry is feeling the deep and serious repercussions of what it calls "The Washington Regulatory Explosion." It is faced with ever-more stringent and expensive environmental and safety and health controls.

In principal, the textile industry does not oppose the goals of these regulations. It, too, promotes a cleaner environment. It works toward a safer and healthier workplace for its employees.

On the other hand, the textile industry believes that it has a responsibility to distinguish between good and bad regulation, both in its own self-interest and the best interests of the nation.

The textile industry believes that every restraint should be most carefully scrutinized and discussed. When the evidence warrants, it opposes bad regulation with all the vigor it commands.

Yet, when a regulation is good, this industry will make every effort to find ways to make it work.


Good afternoon, ladies and gentlemen. My name is David Hillier and I am Assistant General Counsel for Fieldcrest Mills, Incorporated, a diversified manufacturer of textile products, including towels, sheets, blankets, bedspreads, carpets and rugs, with corporate headquarters in Eden, North Carolina.

Fieldcrest is one of many textile firms that is a member of the American Textile Manufacturers Institute. ATMI is the national trade association representing textile companies in 47 of the 50 states. ATMI companies together produce approximately 85 percent of the textile products made in the United States.

It is my pleasure to represent ATMI and the textile industry here today. It is a special honor for me to join the distinguished people on this panel in a discussion of the interdependent interests of consumers, government and industry. My portion of the program focuses on "industry's response to government regulation."

The word "response" reminds me of an exchange between a plumber and one of the federal regulatory agencies in Washington. It seems that the plumber wrote this particular agency saying that he had found hydrochloric acid to be just super for cleaning drains, and, he asked, was it harmless?

The Washington agency replied: "The efficacy of hydrochloric acid is indisputable, but the chlorine residue is incompatible with metallic permanence."

The plumber wrote back saying that he was mighty glad the agency agreed with him. The agency replied: "We cannot assume responsibility for the production of toxic and noxious residues with hydrochloric acid, and suggest that you use an alternate procedure." The plumber was happy to learn that the agency still agreed with him.

Whereupon Washington exploded: "Don't use hydrochloric acid: it eats hell out of the pipes."

I don't know whether this is a true story or not, but it does illustrate a typical response of Washington agencies to problems which exist in our country. The response is illustrative of the way regulatory agencies seem to purposely ignore straightforward and relatively simple answers to complex problems.

The textile industry, as much as any business, has felt the deep and serious repercussions of this regulatory approach. We are faced with ever-more stringent controls on water quality, noise, cotton dust levels, flammability, toxic chemicals and many others.

Many of these controls are, we believe, unnecessary. These controls also present other problems for textiles, and it is my purpose here today to discuss some of these problems with you.

Let me begin by assuring you that the textile industry is not opposed to any and all government regulation per se. This industry's knee does not jerk automatically in violent reaction to all proposed regulation. We believe that "crying wolf" is not an effective way to participate in the political and social process in connection with government regulations.

We do believe, however, that we have a responsibility and an obligation to distinguish between good and bad regulation, both in our own self-interest and the interest of the nation. We also believe we have a duty to make our position known, often done at great expense, when we believe government restraints to be harmful. When a proposed new regulation, however commendable in purpose, would weaken our industry, put thousands out of work, or raise prices beyond people's ability to buy, we believe such a regulation should be most carefully scrutinized and discussed and, if necessary, adamantly opposed with all the vigor we command.

There are several such regulations now facing the textile industry.

The proposed new federal noise standard is an excellent example. The Occupational Safety and Health Administration--OSHA--has proposed a maximum noise level in textile plants of 90 decibels.

It may come as a surprise to some that the textile industry doesn't oppose this goal in principle. We agree that reduced noise levels reaching our workers would provide a more pleasant, safer and healthier working environment.

Where we part company with the regulators is on the means and the cost of achieving this end.

We have taken the position--a very realistic and defensible position--that there is practically no machinery now available which will operate to reduce noise levels in our weaving and spinning rooms to 90 decibels.

We have maintained, and still maintain, that it is presently technologically impossible to attain a 90 decibel standard by means of engineering controls. We have pointed out, even if present equipment were capable of modification, that the cost would be an estimated $3 billion. If present textile machinery had to be replaced, rather than modified, the estimated cost in the textile industry for meeting the standard would be $13 billion.

Even the $3 billion figure is far in excess of the textile industry's total annual expenditure for new plants and equipment. $3 billion is also in excess of the industry's total net earnings after taxes. If the government required that this money be spent to convert existing machinery, assuming for the sake of argument this were always possible, hundreds of smaller textile companies would be forced to close. Thousands of people would lose their jobs, and textile growth would come to a standstill.

There is another solution. And it works. We can protect employees now, today, against excessive noise levels. We are already doing it. The method is costly. It involves personnel, time and careful administration. But, it works. It achieves the desired result of reducing textile worker exposure to harmful noise. This solution is a program of personal ear protection combined with a hearing conservation program. This method does not eliminate the noise, but it does prevent the noise from reaching the ears of our people. We are providing personal protective equipment by way of a relatively simple device--ear plugs. More, we are conducting audiometric tests on our employees, continuously measuring their hearing ability.

To us in textiles, this approach seems to be a most reasonable, practical and effective method of meeting the government's objective, pending the day when feasible machinery will be available.

Sometimes I get the feeling that bureaucrats themselves have a hearing deficiency. Our arguments about cost often seem to fall on deaf ears.

Let's take another example. The industry has a problem with cotton dust. It produces a reaction in a few people --by no means all--which causes respiratory difficulties. This condition is called byssinosis. Byssinosis is sometimes called "brown lung" and is unfairly lumped with "black lung," to which coal miners are subject. This is unfair because there is a correlation between byssinosis and cigarette smoking; because not all cotton textile workers are susceptible to byssinosis; because byssinosis does not progress once a sufferer is removed from the harmful environment; and because the agent in cotton dust which causes byssinosis is not known.

Nevertheless, we want to get rid of byssinosis. So does the government.

OSHA believes the best way to get rid of byssinosis is to reduce the level of respirable cotton dust per cubic meter of air to point-two milligrams. Two-tenths of a milligram of cotton dust would barely fit on the head of a pin. Now imagine this amount of dust dispersed in a whole meter of air--a space larger than a cubic yard.

For the industry to meet the proposed standard of point-two milligrams, the estimated cost is $2.8 billion--a frightening figure.

The great tragedy of this proposed standard is that it is so unnecessary. We can protect our employees against byssinosis. We are doing it now.

We are measuring the dust level in our plants. We are giving periodic respiratory tests to employees, and we are transferring those few employees who have respiratory problems to areas of our mills where cotton dust is not present. We are providing respirators to some workers. We are installing better filtration equipment.

ATMI has produced a work practices standard which has been furnished to ATMI member companies, outlining a program of protective measures.

By these means, the industry has proven that textile workers can be effectively and adequately protected from byssinosis.

The textile industry has also taken it upon itself to discover the true prevalence and severity of byssinosis. More than 100,000 tests have been administered to cotton textile workers to determine both their subjective and objective symptoms. The results show that only one percent of textile employees have any such symptoms of the disease. Most of these are simply reactors. . .people who react to cotton dust as some of us react to pollen. Those employees who have any form of disability from byssinosis would be far below that one percent level. Our documented test results--some 2,600 pages--have been submitted to OSHA.

Yet, we still face a multi-billion dollar government imposed dust standard that is unnecessarily stringent.

One more example. The textile industry is required to make children's sleepwear flame resistant. It was the government that ordered the flammability standard, and it was ordered prematurely over the objections of the textile industry. We in textiles repeatedly informed the Congress and the Secretary of Commerce that the necessary technologies and tests for safety and toxicity did not exist. We documented the lack of technologies and cautioned against hasty action without time for thorough toxicity tests. Our pleas again fell on deaf ears.

Just recently, six years after our warnings, the government issued a ban on all children's sleepwear treated with the flame retardant chemical Tris. Tris was the only flame retardant chemical available for polyester at the time the flammability standard was adopted.

Companies in the textile industry did make every test they knew to insure that the flame retardant additives were both effective and safe. And, I repeat, we strongly urged the government to hold off implementing the flammability standard.

Now, because of government action, the industry is faced with an economic loss in the neighborhood of $200 million. More important, the consumer faces confusion. Mothers are putting their children to bed in their underwear, in hand-me-downs, or in nothing at all.

We in textiles only hope that the consumer knows where the true fault lies and will direct her outrage where it truly belongs.

Each of these regulatory problems I've discussed--and some that I haven't touched upon--have several things in common. First, they are all commendable in their intent. Second, they also involve enormous sums of money, and ignore the damage to this industry of such outlays. Most of them call for technology that doesn't exist.

There is, I think, a third common characteristic of these regulatory problems which has been ignored, overlooked, and misunderstood by both government and most people in our country. That is the ultimate cost to the American consumer.

Suppose, for a moment, that all the proposed regulations affecting textiles were to become law. Imagine, too, that this industry actually spent the billions of dollars required to meet these regulations. Apart from the obvious disaster to the industry itself and its one million employees, what would the impact be on the public?

Obviously, there's no way to precisely measure the probable jump in the price of textiles. No doubt, it would be astronomical. Just take one example. What happened to the price of children's sleepwear when the flammability rule went into effect? It went up an average of one dollar per garment. Taken by itself, that's not very much. Multiply it by all the children who wear nightwear, and that's still only a drop in the bucket compared to the total cost of this regulation.

Now, try to estimate the ultimate pass-along of the billions of dollars for water preservation, for noise control, for dust reduction, for energy conservation and all the other mandates of government. Who's going to pay?

The obvious answer is the consumer. But is that a correct answer? Suppose all textiles doubled or tripled in price. How many consumers could or would maintain their present buying patterns? How many would have to, or choose to, settle for less, perhaps far less?

No, I don't really expect this to happen, because I believe good, old-fashion common sense will have its say, and we will reach at least some sensible compromise with the government.

This will not happen, however, until the American people become aware of the costs of regulations, and until they recognize the trade-offs involved in cost and a reduced standard of living.

It would be wonderful to have perfectly clear water and pure air. It would be wonderful to have absolutely silent, totally dust-free textile plants which had zero impact on the environment and where no potentially dangerous chemicals were in use, and where everything could be produced without energy. That's idealism at its highest.

But, we must contend with reality. We must participate in the regulatory process without being automatically against all regulation. We must inform the public that compliance with regulations, no matter how beneficial they are, will cost money and the consumer will ultimately pay the tab. Unless we convey this credibly and clearly, the people of this nation will not be in a position to make informed decide between benefit and cost.

We in the textile industry will continue to cooperate with government in the process of making this nation a better place in which to live and work. We will oppose excessive and unnecessary government regulation. We will point out the effects of bad regulations.

And, when a regulation is good, we will help find ways to make it work.