Honda looks to K St. to kill regs

Honda North America hired its fourth lobbying firm after joining a coalition to alter the path of consumer safety regulations, according to new federal records.
 
Bracewell & Giuliani represents a coalition of off-road vehicle manufacturers, including Polaris, Yamaha, Kawasaki and four others, that aims to kill federal regulations the industry says would stifle innovation.

Honda joined the coalition in May, and retained the firm to “educate lawmakers” and push the administration to drop the regulations all together.

“Our hope is that they rely upon the voluntary standards currently in place and terminate the rulemaking," said Edward Krenik, the lobbyist on the account.

Honda North America spent more than $2.1 million on lobbying last year, retaining K Street help from Forbes-Tate, Shl & Associates and Miller & Chevalier. They spent upwards of $1.2 million during the first half of this year.

Krenik says “99.99 percent of products the Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) oversees” are regulated by a voluntary standard created by the industries themselves. “This is perhaps the most complex type of product the commission oversees.”

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“Once you lock a mandatory standard into place, it’s difficult to modify that standard,” he said, “particularly with a product category such as [recreational off-highway vehicles] ROVs, that are constantly [undergoing] innovations.”

The companies make these products, which look similar to dune buggies, as well as all-terrain vehicles (ATVs). The CSPC has been mulling safety rules for both types since 2009 and 2005, respectively, but no specific proposals have been released.

“I’ve never worked for a company that said they wouldn’t want to adhere to the voluntary standards,” Krenik said, adding that current law enables the commission to force companies to recall products deemed unsafe and punish them if they knew about the defects.

Consumer watchdogs argue that the industry-created voluntary standards are not sufficient.

Children are not “cognitively developed” enough to handle the heavier and faster adult models, but often ride them, according to a joint safety campaign by the Consumer Federation of America and the American Academy of Pediatrics.

The CSPC released a report in February tallying deaths caused by ATVs at more than 2,300 from 2008 to 2011, noting the figures stand to increase as more reports come in.

The same study found more than 490,000 emergency department-treated injuries from ATVs during the same time period. Children under 16 represented about a quarter of those injuries each year.

Recent CSPC tests show safety vulnerabilities in the design of ROVs when involved in roll-overs, the most common type of ROV accident. The industry says it's working to configure greater protections, including protective gear requirements.

Krenik told The Hill the companies are open to changing their own standards based on concerns of regulators.

In a document given by lobbyists to members of Congress, the industry says any mandatory standards would be “premature,” saying that new regulations would “threaten the viability of the ROV industry.”

“The CPSC should continue to work with [The Recreational Off-Highway Vehicle Association] on voluntary standards that reflect the knowledge, experience and input of government, industry, vehicle users, independent experts, consumer groups and other stakeholders,” the document said.