President TrumpDonald TrumpUN meeting with US, France canceled over scheduling issue Trump sues NYT, Mary Trump over story on tax history McConnell, Shelby offer government funding bill without debt ceiling MORE has re-nominated U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) Acting Chairman Ann Marie Buerkle to be designated chairman in spite of consumer groups voicing their strong and appropriate opposition. The stakes for product safety could not be higher.
Buerkle and I were both confirmed by the Senate in 2013 as CPSC commissioners — she for a Republican seat and I for a Democratic seat. Since then, Buerkle has consistently aligned herself with the positions of regulated industries at the expense of the safety of consumers. Her positions often were extreme enough that even her fellow Republican commissioner did not support her.
Her confirmation combined with my imminent departure as commissioner and confirmation of the incoming Trump-appointed majority would neuter an agency that for decades has garnered bipartisan support in its critical mission to protect Americans from dangerous products.
Republicans and Democrats in Congress strongly supported the creation of the CPSC in 1972 after a commission concluded that there were too many dangerous products in this country.
New legislation was passed almost unanimously in 2008 that further strengthened the agency. Although frequently unnoticed, the agency has been this country’s engine for addressing the everyday hazards created by defective products for more than four decades.
Congress charged the CPSC with protecting the public from unreasonable risks of injury or death associated with the use of virtually all products except food, drugs, cosmetics, automobiles and guns.
Think children’s toys and nursery products, ATVs, and kitchen appliances. Recently the CPSC recalled the Samsung Note 7, IKEA dressers, and hover-boards due to dangerous defects.
The CPSC performs its lifesaving work with approximately 550 employees and a budget of just over $120 million.
Putting that in perspective, Congress recently allocated an additional $120 million to protect the President and his family. Despite its funding and personnel limitations, the CPSC’s dedicated staff including scientists and engineers has consistently served as a watchdog for consumer safety, significantly reducing the roughly $1 trillion in annual costs of injury and property damages attributable to unsafe products.
All of that will change with a Buerkle-led CPSC. A review of her extreme views shows huge risks facing consumers, especially children.
One of the CPSC’s most important jobs is to recall dangerous products. Historically, the CPSC’s reputation for putting consumer safety first has been critical in allowing it to negotiate acceptable recalls without resorting to litigation.
Under Buerkle’s leadership, it is clear to the regulated community that we will no longer be putting consumers first. In the past year, we have seen manufacturers of products our staff has determined have defects that are causing continuing serious injuries and property damage simply refuse to correct the defect, notify the public or recall the products. And they are getting away with it.
Even companies that previously agreed to recalls are backing off their commitments. Our recalls of millions of dangerously unstable dressers that kill a child every two weeks and send a child to the hospital every 30 minutes are simply stalled and these dangerous dressers remain in our homes.
Buerkle was the only vote against our multi-year effort to recall tiny, extremely powerful rare-earth magnets that doctors said were causing horrific injuries in very young children who swallowed them. Her vote was based on her mistaken belief that the CPSC cannot protect infants from “misuse” such as swallowing things they should not. If this were true, we could not protect our most vulnerable young consumers from many things they do as part of their development process.
Buerkle consistently opposes any new rules. She opposed banning dangerous chemicals in children’s toys and nursery products, design changes to decrease deaths and injuries from recreational off-highway vehicles, and limitations on carbon monoxide emissions from portable generators.
The portable generator story illustrates what we can expect under her leadership.
Such generators emit more than 450 times the carbon monoxide of an idling automobile and kill and seriously injure hundreds every year. Most manufacturers have fought hard against using widely available technology to lower CO emissions. In 2016, the CPSC voted 4-1 to finally start rulemaking to limit CO emissions.
Buerkle was the lone “no” vote.
As Acting Chair during 2017 Buerkle worked tirelessly to undo the work supported by the CPSC staff and all the other Commissioners.
She first erroneously wrote to Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) Director Scott PruittEdward (Scott) Scott PruittEPA bans use of pesticide linked to developmental problems in children Science matters: Thankfully, EPA leadership once again agrees Want to evaluate Donald Trump's judgment? Listen to Donald Trump MORE that the CPSC lacked jurisdiction over the generators.
She then hired a new general counsel, Patty Hanz, who had spent 24 years as an in-house attorney at a large portable generator manufacturer, was an officer of the Portable Generator Manufacturers’ Association and had led industry’s stubborn resistance to the CPSC’s safety efforts. The Buerkle-Hanz team is now positioned to prevent any new rules, including on portable generators, from coming before the Commission.
The Buerkle/Hanz team is also likely to eliminate penalties on manufacturers who fail to report potentially dangerous products. When manufacturers have willfully violated this legal obligation over a significant time, the CPSC’s General Counsel has sought monetary penalties. In most cases, the guilty company agrees to pay an amount that the Commissioners must then approve.
Buerkle does not believe in penalties, no matter how flagrantly a company violated the law or how dangerous those violations were to consumers. In most cases, Buerkle has voted against any penalty and even when she voted for a penalty, it has always been for one much less than what the violating company has agreed to pay.
Several companies that violated the law and did not report dangerous products to the CPSC for years while consumers were harmed by them are now simply refusing to even engage in negotiations on penalties knowing that no one will hold them accountable.
Buerkle’s Senate confirmation will not yield headlines. The coming damage I anticipate cannot be reduced to sound bites, despite the devastation.
Today, our consumer products are among the safest in the world. But now we face a stark and chilling choice. Anyone who cares about product safety should oppose this nomination. What the Senate does will affect generations to come.
Marietta S. Robinson is a commissioner of the United States Consumer Product Safety Commission.