Monday April 08, 2019
Buerkle Targeted by News Stories and Congressional Inquiries
The House Energy and Commerce consumer protection subcommittee told CPSC Acting Chairman Ann Marie Buerkle to respond by April 6 to its letter suggesting she "coordinated with industry." The allegations stem from a story written by FairWarning and also appearing in The American Prospect (bit.ly/2HWRWi3) and Salon (bit.ly/2V8kIPD), both in mid-March.
The letter addressed interaction between industry representatives and CPSC. It focused on, among other topics, the debate about CPSC-vs-EPA jurisdiction over emissions from portable generators.
The letter (bit.ly/2FRyCjN) tells Buerkle to provide:
The letter suggested the generator developments were "orchestrated by industry lobbyists," adding, "This disingenuous and cynical tactic of delaying regulation by pitting two public health agencies against each other is appalling."
The letter additionally included an allegation that Buerkle "shared internal work product from another commissioner with industry stakeholders with a note that you are 'attempting to discourage' your colleagues from asking retailers to sell safer products."
The letter also expressed concern that Buerkle's email (bit.ly/2HWJcZc) "suggests you are prioritizing the interests of industry over the safety of consumers."
It asserted, "Enlisting members of the industry to block agency action and offering to assist in their efforts undermines the integrity and effectiveness of CPSC and calls into question whether CPSC is effectively serving consumers."
PGMA in 2017 submitted comments questioning CPSC authority to regulate emission from portable generators (PSL, 5/1/17). Months earlier (PSL, 10/24/16), during a staff briefing, Buerkle asked whether the agency was wandering into EPA jurisdiction. Staffers maintained that CPSC has purview over acute emission hazards while EPA's power covers broader matters like ambient pollution.
Meanwhile, the Washington Post April 3 put out a story (wapo.st/2UtGIr9) with allegations that Buerkle interfered in agency staff efforts in the administrative suit to get Britax to recall BOB strollers. The story included a rebuttal from CPSC spokesperson Patty Davis: "The chairwoman sees her role as helping staff do the best job that they can and not standing in their way."
Davis additionally pointed PSL to a statement (bit.ly/2Vpw69Y) by Buerkle. It included:
"The Washington Post article concerning the Consumer Product Safety Commission's settlement with Britax is misleading. Comments by former commissioners or others do not change the facts."
"The safety agenda of this important agency has remained the same – to seek the best solution in the shortest amount of time to help prevent unreasonable risks of harm to consumers. In this case, the diligent career staff of our agency negotiated and agreed to a settlement with Britax and recommended it to the Commission. The Commission approved the settlement upon the staff's recommendation, keeping in mind the agency's experience in valuing a settlement much sooner than a prolonged, protracted, and uncertain lawsuit."
Britax also reacted to the story, April 3 issuing a statement (bit.ly/2ONd9vm) that included:
"It's unfortunate the Washington Post article characterizes the pre-September 2015 BOB jogging stroller settlement as simply politics. We worked with the article's author to provide our perspective on the case. We explained that the reason we did not agree to a recall of the pre-September 2015 jogging strollers is that they are not defective and are safe when used as instructed. Unlike the cited recalls in the article, the quick release design on our pre-September 2015 BOB jogging strollers has been used successfully around the world for decades in other products."
Following the Washington Post story, Sens. Dick Blumenthal (D-Conn.) and Ed Markey (D-Mass.) sent another letter ( bit.ly/2G1l4kX), giving Buerkle an April 26 deadline to respond to numerous questions including whether the public can trust CPSC and what she would do to ensure its independence. Other queries sought explanations about the BOB settlement, including the decision to avoid the word recall and whether the strollers, thus, can be resold legally.
Meanwhile, in an April 3 floor speech criticizing a move to reduce Senate debate time for nominees, Sen. Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) referenced the article, stating:
"Ann Marie Buerkle, nominated to chair the CPSC – just today the Post reported that this nominee blocked action at the Commission to recall hundreds of thousands of potentially defective baby strollers, even in the face of reports that they caused "potentially life-threatening injuries.' She even kept Democratic Commissioners in the dark about the investigation."
The two congressional letters follow a more general one a few weeks earlier. That document (PSL,3/11/19) demanded information across a wide range of CPSC activity and was an early sign of plans for a hearing (see related story).