Call It the ‘Who Cares About Consumer Safety Commission’
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Call It the ‘Who Cares About Consumer Safety Commission’

Trump Wants Manufacturers’ Representatives Overseeing Product Safety Agency

Ann Marie Buerkle

Trump is putting people with long histories opposing product safety in charge of the agency responsible for product safety.

He has re-nominated attorney Ann Marie Buerkle, who is abetting the portable generator industry as it kills about 70 people a year, to head the Consumer Product Safety Commission. He has also re-nominated Boston attorney Dana Baiocco to the commission. Baiocco represented Yamaha in lawsuits brought by the families of boys injured while riding all-terrain vehicles. Baiocco’s husband, Andrew Susko, was involved in defending Ikea against three lawsuits filed by families of children who died after the company’s dressers tipped over on top of them.

“The Trump administration is filling the nation’s chief consumer product safety agency with friends of big business whose main aim is to weaken health and safety standards and increase profits,” said attorney Remington A. Gregg of Public Citizen, a nonprofit consumer advocacy group.

Portable generators are one of the deadliest consumer products on the market. A 5,000-watt portable generator gives off as much carbon monoxide an hour as 450 idling mid-sized late-1990s cars. From 2005 to 2016, 849 people died from carbon monoxide poisoning from portable generators. Another 2,800 suffered from carbon-monoxide poisoning but didn’t die.

Buerkle, currently the acting chair of the commission, was the only commissioner in November 2016 to vote against a proposal to force manufacturers to cut carbon monoxide emissions.

Sen. Bill Nelson (D-Fla.) questioned Buerkle in September about deaths from portable generators. At least 11 people using portable generators died after Irma, and many more died after hurricanes Harvey and Maria, especially in Puerto Rico.

“How many more deaths from generators in the aftermath of hurricanes are we going to have to see before the Consumer Product Safety Commission, looking out for consumer safety, finally gets around to saying: enough?” Nelson asked.

The Senate Committee on Commerce, Science & Transportation voted 14-13 along party lines to approve Buerkle’s nomination and Baiocco’s nomination, but the full Senate didn’t vote on them.

Joseph Martyak, the commission spokesman, said he believes the Senate committee will have to vote again on the two, but confirmation hearings will not be held again. The nominations weren’t carried over to this year because of opposition from Senate Democrats.

Buerkle, a former New York congresswoman, likes to say that the Consumer Product Safety Commission under Obama made decisions based too often on emotion.

“We have to rely on data,” Buerkle told the American Home Furnishings Alliance. She also supports voluntary standards.

Here is some data. The Consumer Product Safety Commission has estimated that 208 of the 503 deaths from carbon monoxide from 2004 to 2012 could have been prevented if the amount of carbon monoxide that generators emit was limited.

One manufacturer, Techtronic Industries, which has been called a “rogue company” by an employee at a competitor, is making and selling safer portable generators.

ACTION BOX/What You Can Do About It

Call the Senate Committee on Commerce, Science & Transportation at 202-224-1251 to tell them you don’t want Trump to pack the Consumer Product Safety Commission with industry friends who will stand by as people are killed or maimed by unsafe products. You can write the committee at 512 Dirksen Senate Building, Washington DC, 20510. A list of members is here.

Public Citizen can be reached at 202-588-1000.

January 11, 2018