CPSC Follies

Congress created the federal Consumer Product Safety Commission in 1973. The agency’s mission, per its website, is “protecting the public from unreasonable risks of serious injury or death from more than 15,000 types of consumer products under the agency’s jurisdiction.”

Sounds good, doesn’t it? Sure it does, if you’re a starry-eyed hippie douchebag who hates America and the free market! If you’re a sensible businessperson, you realize that a government agency “protecting the public from unreasonable risks” costs money. Such matters are best left to the Invisible Hand, which does fine work when it isn’t busy punching the Invisible Clown.

Fortunately for sensible businesspeople, Republicans have been in control of the executive branch for nineteen of the past twenty-seven years. The CPSC, which had some 800 employees at its inception in 1973, now operates at about half that staffing level.

And it hasn’t even had a real chairperson since Harold Stratton resigned back in July 2006. It’s not like the Bush administration hasn’t tried, though.

Last year Bush nominated Michael Baroody to chair the Commission. The goddamn naysayers pointed out that Baroody spent thirteen years as the Executive VP of the National Association of Manufacturers, a powerhouse K Street lobbying group engaged in such delightful activities as demanding that the Environmental Protection Agency allow higher levels of arsenic in drinking water and suing the Occupational Safety and Health Administration to prevent enforcement of workplace safety regulations. The naysaying bitches got their way in May of 2007 when Baroody withdrew his name from consideration.

Commissioner Nancy Nord has served as acting chairperson since Stratton resigned.  Nord is perhaps best known for publicly opposing a bill that would have increased the agency’s funding and staffing. The problem, Nord claimed, was that the bill would have given CPSC more authority to make public disclosure of product safety problems and jacked up the monetary penalty for manufacturers’ failure to meet their reporting requirements from $1.8 million to $100 million. That would “encourage litigation” and “stifle cooperation” from manufacturers. The agency’s mandate, as the Bushies see it, is to encourage private industry’s voluntary compliance with product safety and recall regulations.

In January 2008, Nord gave a speech to the National Press Club decrying the “near-hysteria levels” of press coverage regarding the 25 million toys recalled for safety problems during 2007. The recalls stemmed primarily of excess levels of lead in toys.

“Despite all the hoopla,” Nord said, “we do not have a single reported death, injury or illness caused by lead from any of the recalled toys.” Well, no shit, Nancy. Instant, spontaneous death has never been the issue with lead exposure. The problem stems from long-term brain development deficits resulting from lead exposure.

And now the Washington Post reports that Gail Charnley, who has a Ph.D. in toxicology from MIT, is the frontrunner among current candidates for CPSC chair. Please don’t panic. The fact that Charnley is a scientist does not — I repeat, DOES NOT — mean that she lacks the requisite politically correct views regarding consumer product safety:

In 2006, for example, she wrote an op-ed article in the St. Louis Post-Dispatch opposing tougher restrictions on power-plant emissions in neighboring Illinois on behalf of Americans for Balanced Energy Choices, a nonprofit group funded by utilities, railroads and mining companies. In 2004, she and a colleague wrote a letter to the technical journal Environmental Health Perspectives about a study on human testing of pesticides that they had co-authored without disclosing that it had been funded partly by pesticide makers. The journal’s editor ran a disclosure after Charnley and her colleague disputed having a conflict of interest.

Charnley was also a consultant for the tobacco industry from the early 1990s through 2001, according to internal tobacco industry documents collected as a part of the 1998 master settlement between the industry and 46 state attorneys general.

Well, that’s a relief.

Meanwhile, the law provides that a full commission is required for a quorum. Absent a full commission, then, the CPSC can’t enact new regulations, imposed fines, etc. The CPSC has been operating under temporary legislation that allows it to act with only two commissioners, but that legislation is set to expire on February 3.

Ain’t life grand in George W. Bush’s America!

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  • By CPSC Impotence « Subject to Complete Defeasance on February 4, 2008 at 8:26 am

    […] link. One of the recommendations is to increase CPSC’s budget and staff. However, as we saw here, the Bushie currently running the agency actually opposes additional staffing and […]

  • […] CPSC’s tenuous existence still tenuous The Consumerist reports here on the U.S. Senate’s efforts to reach a compromise that would, for the time being, keep the severely neutered federal Consumer Product Safety Commission alive and functioning to a limited extent. SCD’s prior coverage is available here and here. […]

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