On Wednesday afternoon, CPSC Chairman Alexander Hoehn-Saric addressed the annual conference of the International Consumer Product Health and Safety Organization (ICPHSO) for the second time as chairman. In his remarks, Hoehn-Saric looked back on his first year as chairman, including the recent controversy over gas stoves, and shared some of the agency’s priorities moving forward. But the central theme of Hoehn-Saric’s remarks could not have been clearer— consumers are first in everything the agency does.
Looking Back at the Past Year
Compliance. Hoehn-Saric started his speech by noting the changes that have been implemented at the agency in compliance, including the inclusion of a company’s recall webpage .url within recall announcements and the agency’s emphasis on direct notice of recalls to consumers. He then acknowledged what those in the regulated community have watched with great interest over the past year: a significant increase in the publication of “unilateral press releases”—13 since the start of FY 2022 (for more on unilateral press releases see here). According to Hoehn-Saric, the CPSC will not be hesitant to move forward, alone, if it is in the best interest of the consumer and will not back down from sharing essential information with consumers in a timely manner if firms are slow in negotiating a voluntary recall. He also noted that the agency will be aggressive in civil penalties to deter unacceptable and illegal behavior.
Rulemaking. As for rulemakings, Hoehn-Saric highlighted the agency’s effort to “clear the backlog” of regulatory proceedings, i.e., rulemakings. He pointed to the Commission’s past and ongoing work on infant products; magnets; crib mattresses; and window blinds, as well as portable generators; gas furnaces; adult portable bed rails; infant loungers and infant support pillows. As for enforcement of enacted standards, the Chairman noted that agency staff is conducting surveillance to remove non-compliant product through notices of violation (NOVs) and other enforcement tools.
Gas Stoves. To nobody’s surprise, Hoehn-Saric acknowledged the recent kerfluffle involving the agency and gas stoves. He lamented the fact that the media had inaccurately reported that the agency sought to “ban” gas stoves, which, according to Hoehn-Saric, is not true. In a nod to the political firestorm that resulted, Hoehn-Saric stated that the CPSC needs to be a trusted name for all Americans and that it cannot risk having half the populating view the agency as a “suspect actor.” He added that if consumers perceive an agency bias, consumers will be put at risk. In order to address any potential hazard involving gas stoves, agency staff has submitted to the Commission a draft “Request for Information” related to chronic hazard risks posed by gas stoves. The public will now have the opportunity to submit information to the agency and comment on this burgeoning issue.
The Chairman also looked to the year ahead at the agency.
Section 6(b). The new Commission is revisiting a decade-long rulemaking involving Section 6(b) of the CPSA, which concerns information disclosure. According to Hoehn-Saric, 6(b) “permeates just about everything at the Commission.” Hoehn-Saric stated that the goal in issuing a supplemental notice of proposed rulemaking is to align the agency’s internal processes implementing Section 6(b) with the language of the statutory provision. In other words, he wants to ensure that the agency’s internal processes do not call for more than what the statute actually requires. He noted that recalls are often delayed because of 6(b); that 6(b) requires notice to fly-by-night overseas operators that disappear when challenged; and that 6(b) limits the agency’s ability to respond to firms who misrepresent the agency’s position concerning a recall, for example.
Messaging to Underserved Communities. At last year’s conference, Hoehn-Saric stated that targeting underserved, often minority, communities would be a priority for the Commission. Hoehn-Saric revisited this issue and expressed his desire to see the CPSC become a household name for all, including minority and underserved communities. He spoke of the startling statistics concerning the significantly higher rates at which African Americans drown in swimming pools. To address this issue, the Chairman spoke about the agency’s ongoing partnerships with local foundations and organizations to enhance product safety messaging to specific communities.
E-Commerce Platforms and Modernizing the CPSC. Hoehn-Saric encouraged e-commerce platforms and third-party marketplaces to use technology and other resources to ensure the safety of products sold online. The Chairman also discussed ways that he was working to modernize the agency through investment in technology; data collection; emerging hazard identification; detection programs at ports-of-entry; and partnerships with state and local government agencies.
In sum, the Chairman’s second appearance at ICPHSO served as a reminder that we continue to undergo a political transition at the agency that will impact all product safety stakeholders, particularly industry. The agency, according to Chairman Hoehn-Saric, will always prioritize the consumer, which he believes has not always been done.