The Obama Administration’s War On Stained Glass

Joanne Butler Contributor
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Recently, artists were shocked to learn about the upcoming closure of Spectrum, a small business north of Seattle – because for 40 years it’s been a major supplier and exporter of stained glass. Spectrum found it was unable to comply with new diktats from Obama’s EPA while simultaneously coping with a sluggish economy. As a result, 124 workers will lose their jobs when Spectrum closes its doors in July. 

Spectrum makes stained glass by mixing silica (the base material) with chemicals (to achieve a particular color) and heats the mix to over 2,000 degrees Fahrenheit. The liquid glass is cooled gradually until it can be moved through a series of rollers that create smooth flat glass sheets. Spectrum’s glass is well known for its array of colors and the integrity of its product – no bumps or bubbles.

The problem Spectrum faced with the EPA involved cadmium oxide, a very toxic material, but useful in making yellow glass and related colors. Spectrum, as with other responsible stained glass makers, has had strict controls on the usage of and emissions related to cadmium oxide.

According to the Stained Glass Association of America, Oregon’s environmental agency stated it found high levels of cadmium in moss samples taken near two stained glass makers in the Portland area. As a result, the state agency asked the EPA to rethink how the Clean Air Act’s emissions standards for hazardous air pollutants should to be applied to America’s stained glass makers.  

Obama’s EPA considered the matter and took action. Per the Association, the EPA notified companies (including Spectrum) to apply for special emissions permits. The permits involve tighter emissions standards, more monitoring and recordkeeping, as well as increased compliance costs borne by the manufacturers.  

According to the Association, the EPA’s action has put firms under “excessive duress” as they scramble to comply with the new EPA standards. The Association also directly links Spectrum’s closure to the EPA.

Notice how the EPA views all stained glass makers, including Spectrum, of being guilty of excessive emissions without having inspected their facilities.

In Spectrum’s case, the compliance costs are too high, so it must close its business. Interestingly, Spectrum’s Congressional Representative Susan DelBene’s (D, WA-1) website doesn’t mention the loss of 124 jobs in her district. It does, however, highlight her strong interest in pay equity for female professional soccer players.

Will Spectrum be the lone domino to fall under the EPA’s pressure – or merely the first? As stained glass makers are small firms with limited resources to spend on new EPA mandates, my guess is that more firms will close and more jobs will disappear.  

Sadly, one of the firms to receive an EPA notice was Indiana’s Kokomo Opalescent Glass, in operation since 1888, and a supplier to Louis Comfort Tiffany for his famed stained glass windows.

Beyond the manufacturers, there will be job losses among stained glass retailers and artists. For the latter two groups, if they want to stay in business, they likely will look to China for glass.  

That’s right, those 124 jobs (or more) are probably going to China – a nation with notoriously lax environmental standards.  Europe won’t be able to supply our market as their emissions standards are very high, and their glass is very expensive.

Will the quality of Chinese stained glass match that of Spectrum or any other American maker’s? Probably not. But it’s easy to foresee a day when China becomes the sole source of stained glass in the world.

This is not a case of China stealing manufacturing jobs from America. Instead, we have the Obama administration giving American jobs away to foreign firms. Why? Because the jobs are in an industry the EPA doesn’t like.

Who knows what fresh mischief the Obama administration will invent during its final eight months? As Spectrum’s closure demonstrates, we can expect more damage in the near future.