By Craig Sandler, Public Citizen
When you sit on a chair, you expect that it won’t break. When you start your coffeemaker, you expect that it won’t catch on fire. When you put your child on a tricycle, you expect that the wheels won’t fall off. But product manufacturers don’t just test their products for safety out of the goodness of their hearts—we have consumer protection laws that require them to test that their products are not dangerous. And the agency responsible for ensuring that these manufacturers follow the law is the Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC or Commission).
But lately, there are signs that the CPSC may have started putting industry ahead of protecting consumer health and safety.
Trump’s pick to head the Commission, Ann Marie Buerkle, has been criticized for being too cozy with the industries the CPSC regulates. Since joining the commission in 2013, Buerkle has consistently opposed strong health and safety regulations, and has tilted the agency toward advancing a more corporate-friendly agency agenda.
In addition, Trump nominated a corporate-friendly ally, Dana Baiocco, to the Commission. Baiocco has spent her professional career defending corporations from product safety claims. And the agency’s new top lawyer previously worked for one of the nation’s leading makers of gasoline generators and consistently has opposed stronger safety standards. Put together, these personnel decisions indicate an alarming coziness with industry at the expense of strong health and safety regulations at the CPSC.
Remington A. Gregg, Public Citizen’s counsel for civil justice and consumer rights, recently testified before the committee to argue that the CPSC must once again place consumer safety above protecting manufacturers. First, Gregg urged the commission to invest in improving its online product safety database, SaferProducts.gov, by making better use of its data. This database allows the public to search for and report product safety hazards, but Gregg argued that the database is presently insufficiently known to the public in a way that could inform consumers about potential safety hazards. And, he urged the Commission investigate technological improvements that would increase consumer awareness of product recalls. In addition, he argued that the CPSC should speed up its response time to Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) requests to ensure a timely response that is consistent with its statutory obligations.
Gregg also urged the CPSC to work with Congress to eliminate a statute that restricts the CPSC from disclosing information to the public about specific products until the manufacturer or other authorized entity gives the agency permission. No other federal health and safety agency is bound by such a law. The law, Section 6(b) of the Consumer Product Safety Act, along with agency rules implementing the statute, requires the commission to negotiate with a manufacturer or company so that they can weigh in on – or even object to – product safety information before it’s disclosed to the public.
“While corporations try to block the release of vital safety information, people – including children – are being hurt by dangerous products still allowed on store shelves,” Gregg said during his recent verbal testimony before the Commission.
The CPSC’s deepening corporate bench and worsening conflicts of interest are deeply troubling. The CPSC’s top priority should be ensuring that manufacturers’ products live up to strict safety standards and that consumers know as soon as possible when they don’t. By making changes to ensure that the agency’s work is technologically modern, visible to the public, and unrestrained by outrageous rules like Section 6(b) that serve business lobbyists but not the public, the CPSC can return its focus to its mission. Corporate interests should never come before protecting human health and safety.