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Monday July 31, 2023

Micromobility Battery Stakeholders Lean Towards Rulemaking Activity

CPSC's July 27 hearing on battery fires, especially in micromobility, was marked by a consensus across stakeholders for commission rulemaking. At a minimum, that could see adoption of voluntary standards like UL 2849 on e-bikes and UL 2271 li-ion batteries in light electric vehicles.


As for the rulemaking justification, speakers repeatedly spoke of standards not being followed, especially with imports sold via e-commerce and with de minimis exemptions for customs attention. Insufficient compliance with standards is one of the justifications CPSC can use if voluntary standards are in place. The other is showing that existing standards inadequately protect safety.


The latter seemed not to be a general concern. Indeed, New York City Chief Fire Marshal Daniel Flynn told commissioners that his Singapore counterparts have said they saw a roughly 33% decrease in battery fires after mandating relevant voluntary standards.


Nonetheless, there also are concerns about aftermarket refurbishing and lack of tamper resistance. New York City Fire Commissioner Laura Kavanaugh explained that this means consumers cannot tell if a battery is in the condition a manufacturer supplied it. This even can involve once-accurate UL labeling remaining on now-defective batteries.


Later, she responded to a question from Commissioner Peter Feldman on whether batteries are safe: "Right now, if you have one of these in your home, you don't know."


Intended versus foreseeable use also arose. There has been growing use – especially since the pandemic – in occupational micromobility. This is especially true for urban deliveries. This trend means use in conditions like severe weather and for extended periods not typical with consumer use. Moreover, people most likely to use micromobility for their jobs often have financial challenges. That makes them especially likely to seek low-cost battery replacements, pushing them towards online imports or refurbishing.


Also recurring frequently during the panel sessions of the roughly half-day hearing was the complexity of the problem. Addressing it federally is unlikely to involve just CPSC, but other agencies too especially given the heavy presence of imports. Legal changes like excluding the batteries from de minimis exemptions might be needed.


A national approach versus state or local seemed desired. Flynn explained that New York City might be able to control local brick-and-mortar refurbishing shops, but he said there is no way it could address e-commerce.