While many of us were vacationing, often far from the Beltway, it was business as usual for legions of federal regulators, lobbyists and interest groups. They ground out rules, guidance, endangered-species listings, permits for raising drawbridges, trade investigations and withdrawals of rules. Some qualify as tidbits because they don't get as much attention as proposals to change fuel economy standards or keep mad cows out of the country. But these out-of-the-spotlight projects are important to some constituents, be they duck hunters, condom manufacturers or ferret lovers.
As sure as fall football and turning leaves, the Interior Department prepares for the hunting season by preparing the limits on how many migratory birds can be killed. One plan released by the Fish and Wildlife Service on Aug. 31 covers (animal rights people, plug your ears) mourning, white-tipped and white-winged doves; band-tailed pigeons; woodcocks; sandhill cranes; sea ducks; falcons; and others. For doves and pigeons, the hunt is on from a half-hour before sunrise to sunset, with some exceptions depending on the state. In Illinois, for example, it's legal to kill 15 mourning doves a day in season
The U.S. International Trade Commission, which investigates complaints of foreign competitors "dumping" cheap goods into the U.S. market, is also looking into a complaint by Portfolio Technologies Inc. of Chicago that "certain male prophylactic devices," more commonly known as condoms, that infringe its patent are being imported.
We won't get into the graphic details in a family newspaper, but the Chicago firm clearly wants action against a design being used by an Indian company and the company that owns the Trojan brand. Portfolio also is suing the companies, alleging patent infringement, but it hopes to get a quick resolution from the ITC.
The Agriculture Department's Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service decided this summer that it would look at issuing standards for the "humane handling, care, treatment and transportation" of ferrets.
Regulators at Agriculture already have just about the whole animal world on their hands. Under the Animal Welfare Act, dealers, research facilities, exhibitors, handlers and others must follow certain standards to protect "any live or dead dog, cat, monkey (nonhuman primate mammal), guinea pig, hamster, rabbit," and any other warm-blooded animal the regulators care to include. Ferrets are in that group.
However, the International Ferret Congress, a nonprofit group in Ohio, petitioned for a separate standard for what it called "the unique needs of the ferret." "Currently, the domestic ferret is considered to be one of the most popular companion animals in the United States as well as around the world," said the petition. "Sadly, the protection afforded to it by the Animal Welfare Act does not take into account" its social, biological and physical needs, which are not regarded with as much care as those of cats and dogs, the ferret protectors wrote.
The agency has asked for comments by Oct. 4. Specifically, it asked for suggestions on what kinds of rules will help ferrets. Cage size? Age limits for travel? The agency also wants to know the costs and benefits of such changes.
Some lobbyists did not take much of a holiday.
Oceana, an environmental group that works to protect oceans, wants the Food and Drug Administration to require that signs be posted at supermarket seafood counters and shelves to alert consumers about mercury in tuna and other fish. So far, the FDA has issued a consumer advisory about the risks of eating fish contaminated with mercury. Oceana said two-thirds of those responding to a national poll it sponsored did not know about the advisory and even more supported warnings in supermarkets. So it petitioned the FDA.
The Agriculture Department offered safe-food tips to darlings going off to college. What may seem to be no-brainers to even beginning cooks probably come as news to freshmen, such as how you know when a burger at a tailgate party is fully cooked, one of the questions covered as Food Safety 101.
The USDA also said students can "Ask Karen," a new USDA "virtual representative" available 24/7. The computer database takes written queries and gives back written responses. Ask how long pizza can be left out with no refrigeration, and "Karen" will tell you two hours. Max. "Karen" hears from about 1,200 visitors a month who ask, on average, three questions. She is not a dating service. Her employer is Agriculture's Food Safety and Inspection Service.
Catch that baby. Though he's not exactly a lobbyist, the acting chairman of the National Transportation Safety Board chastised the Federal Aviation Administration for its recent announcement that children under age 2 could fly on laps and did not have to be buckled into a child safety seat.
"During takeoff, landing, and turbulence, adults are required to be buckled up, baggage and coffee pots are stowed, computers are turned off and put away, yet infants and toddlers need not be restrained. This is an unnecessary risk to our children," acting NTSB chairman Mark V. Rosenker said last month in response to the FAA rule. The NTSB has been pestering the FAA since 1995 to buckle up the babies.
These rules won't do. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration told AM General LLC, manufacturer of the hulking Hummer H1, that it was dropping consideration of allowing the installation of passenger-side convex mirrors, which offer drivers a broader field of vision but some distortion. NHTSA has been pondering the question since 2000 but announced last week that the Hummer would have to sport "mirrors of unit magnification," or flat mirrors, just as trucks weighing more than 10,000 pounds must do. The agency concluded that flat mirrors allow drivers to better judge the distance and speed of oncoming vehicles. Apparently, Hummer customers were attaching convex mirrors of their own. The company said it solved the problem by installing a requisite flat mirror that also includes a convex mirror.
At a sister safety agency, the Transportation Department's Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration decided recently to end more than a dozen years of research into whether some vision standards for commercial truck drivers need to be changed. Several outside studies commissioned by the agency found the standard for peripheral vision needed to be raised. But after issuing a public notice inviting comment in 1992, it decided last week that there was an insufficient link between crashes and drivers' vision. It promised -- what else? -- more research on field-of-vision questions.
Just about anything takes a rulemaking, and the Chesapeakeman Ultra Triathlon, scheduled for Oct. 1 on the Choptank River, is no exception.
The Coast Guard has been preparing for the swimming segment of the triathlon with special local regulations that will keep mariners out of the area around Cambridge, Md., from 6:30 to 10:30 p.m. An expected 300 swimmers will plunge into the Choptank under the watchful eye of 20 support vessels, said the Coast Guard in a six-page notice, even though this rule is not considered a "significant regulatory action."
Labor Day postscript: 5,703 U.S. workers died on the job in 2004, up 2 percent from the previous year. At the highest risk were Latino workers and those in the construction industry.