Senators Question CPSC Chair Nominee Over Generator Vote

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By Martina Barash

Consumer Product Safety Commission Acting Chair Ann Marie Buerkle defended her decision last year to oppose a draft rule on portable generator safety at her confirmation hearing to head the agency Sept. 27.

Buerkle told the U.S. Senate Committee on Commerce, Science and Transportation that she voted against the proposal because of potential Environmental Protection Agency jurisdiction over the issue.

Eleven deaths from carbon monoxide poisoning as of Sept. 22 have been linked to improper use of portable generators in Florida alone following Hurricane Irma, said Sen. Bill Nelson of Florida, the commerce panel’s top ranking Democrat. The storm left millions of people in his state without power.

Nelson and Sen. Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.) raised Buerkle’s lone dissenting vote on the plan, approved by the CPSC by a 4-1 margin last November, to begin mandatory rulemaking to reduce portable generator carbon monoxide emissions.

Buerkle said the CPSC is very involved on the issue. She cited visits by commissioners to manufacturers and CPSC involvement in voluntary standards requiring shut-off valves on generators.

Under questioning from Nelson, Buerkle said she’s put forward the name of an official with the Portable Generator Manufacturers’ Association, an industry trade group, as a candidate for CPSC general counsel.

Nelson also criticized Buerkle’s actions on generators in a Sept. 27 letter he co-wrote with Sen. Tom Carper of Delaware, the top ranking Democrat on the Committee on Environment and Public Works.

Blumenthal called on her to “fully fund and support research” into crumb rubber because of concerns that it may cause cancer.

Some senators, including Commerce Committee Chairman John Thune (R-S.D.), asked Buerkle about the role of voluntary and mandatory standards. Buerkle said Congress has directed mandatory rules for some products. But for most others, the CPSC should pursue voluntary standards, she said.

This achieves “buy-in” through the consensus process of standards organizations, she said. “We find substantial compliance,” she said.

The commerce panel intends to move quickly Buerkle’s nomination, Thune said.

In addition to chair, Buerkle is also up for a new seven-year term on the commission beginning in October 2018, when her current term expires.

To contact the reporter on this story: Martina Barash in Washington at MBarash@bna.com

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Steven Patrick at spatrick@bna.com

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