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Monday October 02, 2017

Generators and Voluntary Standards Get Attention at Buerkle's Hearing

Carbon monoxide (CO) risks from portable generators and the interplay of voluntary versus mandatory standards were among the topics getting attention September 27 at a Senate Commerce Committee hearing. The session included CPSC Acting Chairman Ann Marie Buerkle's nominations to be chairman and to get another seven-year term as commissioner. The session also addressed three non-CPSC nominations. The committee plans to address her nomination at its October 4 markup.


The generator issue arose early in questioning by Ranking Member Sen. Bill Nelson (D-Fla.), who noted that there had been at least 11 generator-CO deaths in just his state in the aftermath of Hurricane Irma. He pushed Buerkle to explain her negative vote last fall (PSL, 11/7/16) on moving forward with an NPR. She reiterated her concerns about jurisdictional conflict involving emissions and EPA.


The questioning evolved into a discussion of the merits of voluntary standards with Nelson questioning their worth and at one point asserting, "Manufacturers wouldn't do it because it's voluntary." Buerkle focused on the efficiency and buy-in aspects of consensus requirements. Later, Chairman Sen. John Thune (R-S.D.) elicited her confirmation of CPSC's mandate to work within the voluntary standards system but that it has authority to seek mandatory rules if there is not substantial compliance with voluntary provisions.


Nelson later issued a press release saying he "slammed" her for her "ties to the portable generator industry," including pressing her to acknowledge that she has suggested PGMA's Patricia Hanz be considered as CPSC general counsel. Prior to the hearing, he and Sen. Tom Carper (D-Del.) issued a release pointing to their recent letter to CPSC and EPA about jurisdiction (see related story in this issue).


Other highlights of Buerkle's questioning included:

  • Flame Retardants: Sen. Jim Inhofe (R-Okla.) pointed to the recent decision to move towards banning certain classes of the chemicals (PSL, 9/25/17), asking if CPSC or EPA were better equipped to deal with them. Buerkle noted CPSC's resource limitations and asserted her belief that the commission should assess chemicals individually.

  • Tipping Dressers: Sen. Amy Klobuchar (D-Minn.) asked about commitment to making sure consumers know about recalls. Buerkle pointed to the recent recall-effectiveness workshop (PSL, 7/31/17), and she explained the difficulty in getting consumers to act regardless of awareness. She pointed to promising technological solutions such as apps that could push recall information to consumers.

  • Lithium-Ion Batteries: Klobuchar asked what CPSC is doing about them, raising the problems associated with hoverboards. Buerkle said overheating batteries are a priority because they involve many products and asserted that CPSC is dedicating relatively high resources.

  • Emerging Hazards: Sen. Catherine Cortez Mastro (D-Nev.) asked if CPSC is prepared for challenges related to the internet-of-things. Buerkle confirmed that the agency is looking at the issue (PSL, 9/25/17), and she volunteered 3D printing as a similarly evolving area.

  • ROVs: Sen. Roger Wicker (R-Miss.) asked if Buerkle favors voluntary standards or mandatory requirements for them. She responded that she sees the products as a "poster child" of CPSC's successful ability to negotiate with industries towards consensus requirements.

  • Crumb Rubber: Sen. Richard Blumenthal tried to elicit a promise that CPSC would continue directing resources towards a multi-agency review (PSL, 7/1/17). Buerkle was generally compliant but did warn of theoretical need to redirect efforts to unrelated acute hazards if they arise. Those can take priority over chronic risks, she explained.

  • Generators: Blumenthal took a different tack from Nelson, asking Buerkle if she supported requirements that units come with extension cords (to encourage outdoor placement) and CO detectors. Her responses focused on voluntary standards activity related to cord lengths and cutoff switches linked to detection of CO levels.

Meanwhile, Buerkle's prepared testimony ( included her assertion that she intends to focus on four areas: matching resources to highest priority risks; ensuring surveillance vigilance (including cooperation with Customs); seeking "robust engagement" on voluntary standards; and improving CPSC's data capabilities and sources.