More transparency needed from Consumer Product Safety Commission


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Presently, the Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) is reviewing a family of chemicals called phthalates, which are commonly used to make vinyl products flexible, durable, and dependable. Vinyl is vital to making everything from lifesaving medical devices, to construction materials, to children’s toys, and more. 

The phthalates in question are primarily used as plasticizers to make flexible polyvinyl chloride (PVC). Flexible PVC is used in coated fabrics, adhesives, flooring and roof coverings, as well as a number of other products that Americans rely on. These three high phthalates alone make up about 55 percent of the total plasticizer demand in the United States. Without them, about $10-$15 billion in revenue and approximately 30,000 – 40,000 North American jobs in the industries that manufacture PVC-based products will be at risk.

The Obama administration requires government reviews to be done in a fair and open process, with the findings peer reviewed by independent scientists to confirm the results. In addition, the Office of Management and Budget (OMB) specifies that a scientific assessment which is novel, controversial or precedent setting, or has significant interagency interest, should undergo the most rigorous review before it serves as the scientific underpinning for potential regulatory action. These guidelines protect everyone from regulations being pushed through that could be based on scientific mistakes.

But recently we learned the Commission is breaking the rules by refusing to allow its findings to be reviewed in an open process. Instead, the Commission is relying on a closed-door panel to conduct the analysis and make recommendations to the Commission. Instead of opening its findings to the public to ensure maximum transparency, the panel is choosing to conduct its own independent review.

While this panel is assigned with assessing the safety of specific chemicals in toys, a final report that is moved straight to rulemaking will have practical implications for our economy and cause confusion in the marketplace – the exact things that the OMB is tasked to address.

During a Congressional hearing in August 2012 on this panel, CPSC Chairman Inez Tenenbaum testified that she supported a “fair and open process” for a peer review of the analysis; however, the opposite is the case.

The CPSC is ignoring the independent scientific community and marching ahead with new rules without review or comment by those who will be affected by it. This is akin to a contractor building your home and showing you the floor plans after the renovations are completed.

Given its potential impact on American jobs, the CPSC review should be open to public participation and as transparent as possible.  Americans deserve to know what information their government is using to make regulations that could affect thousands of American jobs. 

As the head of an executive agency, Chairman Tenenbaum has the responsibility to allow the public to view any draft reports prior to the rulemaking process and to encourage an open and public peer review of the Commission’s findings.

With the economic recovery stagnant, and millions of Americans looking for work, we must ensure reviews that could impact huge sectors of our economy are done in an open and transparent manner. Doing anything less would be breaking the rules and jeopardizing American jobs.

Kinzinger is a member of the House Energy and Commerce Committee.