Spin Control

What's ahead for Oregon phosphate ban?

The Oregon Legislature voted this week to ban automatic dishwasher detergent with phosphorus, to which we in Spokane can say "Welcome to the 21st Century."

And, "Good luck with that."

Based on local experience, Spin Control can also predict what's ahead: 

Assuming the governor doesnt' veto the law, dozens of people will rush out within 24 hours of the signing ceremony and buy cases of their favorite detergent under the theory it will disappear from the shelves as soon as the ink is dry. They'll ignore all references to the fact that the law goes into effect in July 2010.

For a year, reporters will tell their readers, viewers and listeners that the ban will take effect July 1, 2010. These stories will routinely mess up the use of phosphorus, which is a noun, and phosphorous, which is an adjective. They will get letters from English teachers and chemistry instructors lecturing them on the difference, and do what they do with all such missives: ignore them.

Next July, shoppers who can't find their favorite detergent on the shelves of their local Safeway, Albertsons or Zip Trip will call newspapers, radio and television stations to demand an investigation into the conspiracy to get rid of Cascade...

In late July, a newspaper columnist will make a trip to a place where he can buy detergent with phosphorus, "smuggle" it back into Oregon and dare the government to come and get him. He will use some version of the slogan "when phosphorous detergent is outlawed, only outlaws will have phosphorous detergent."

In early August, the letters to the editor pages will be filled with nasty letters from  people who say the new stuff isn't any good and their dishes just don't get clean because they can't buy dishwasher detergent with phosphorus.

In mid August, the letters to the editor pages will be filled with nasty letters from people who tell the previous writers that if they'd stop being lazy and just scrape the gunk off their plates first, the detergent would work just fine.

In early September, the Associated Press will write a story about Oregonians travelling to other places to get dishwasher detergent with phosphorus, or asking visitors to bring it with them when they visit from exotic climes (like Idaho or Iraq). Even though there are no provisions for enforcement against individual use, someone will dare the police to come and arrest him, saying government officials can have their phosphorous detergent when they pry their cold dead fingers off the box.

In mid September, Rush Limbaugh or some other radio talk show jock will read the AP story and feature it as the rant of the day, denouncing the intrusion of government into the very kitchens of America. He will call on his listeners to do everything they can to fight this overreach of big government.

In late September, the cable news channels will engage in dueling programming over the "phosphorous issue." Fox News will have a panel talking about how the market place should be allowed to determine whether people use detergent with phosphorus, ending with one panelist asking "What detergent would John Galt use?"  Meanwhile on MSNBC, Rachel Maddow will host a panel that includes a member of an environmental group  no one has ever heard of, saying the phosphorous ban doesn't go far enough and the nation needs a law that would not only reduce phosphorus in lakes but electricity use -- and thus carbon emissions from burning fossil fuels -- by making everyone wash their dishes by hand, and air dry them in drainers.

In October, most Oregonians will be so accustomed to the change in dishwasher detergent boxes and brands that they will forget that the stuff they put in the machine doesn't have phosphorus. If a load comes out less clean than normal, they'll attribute it to the same things that they did a year earlier, such as the dishes were extra dirty, or they didn't scrape off enough crud, or the kids used up all the hot water right before they turned the dishwasher on.

And they'll probably be right.

Sometime down the road, they might notice there's a little bit less algae in their favorite lake or stream. But the jury's still out on that.




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