By  on October 31, 2007

WASHINGTON — House Speaker Nancy Pelosi urged President Bush Tuesday to seek the resignation of Nancy Nord, acting chairwoman of the Consumer Product Safety Commission.

The move by Pelosi (D., Calif.) came after Nord asked Congress to reject legislation that would stiffen standards and penalties for unsafe imports and beef up her agency's resources. Nord said in a letter to the bill's sponsors that the new requirements would overtax the CPSC and even though it includes a substantial increase in funding, it wouldn't be sufficient to meet the measure's mandates.

Trey Bohn, a White House spokesman, said the president supports Nord and urged Democrats to work with the administration on "meaningful reform.''

The developments occurred as the Senate Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee unanimously passed legislation that would overhaul the commission and give it more funding, staffing and resources to halt contaminated and defective imports. Congress has taken a more active oversight role in product safety since public outcry over recalls of contaminated Chinese products, ranging from pet food, toothpaste and seafood to children's toys and jewelry containing lead paint.

"Any commission chair who, in the face of the facts that are so clear, says, 'We don't need any more authority or any more resources to do our job,' does not understand the gravity of the situation and does not understand the concern that American parents have for the safety of their children," Pelosi said. "With that description I would join my colleagues in...calling upon the president...to ask for her resignation. It is his administration, his policy and his appointee."

The rebuke from Pelosi and several House members came after Nord asked lawmakers in two letters last week to reject proposed legislation that would double her agency's budget and boost its authority and muscle with much stiffer civil penalties for companies importing unsafe products.

Sponsored by Sens. Mark Pryor (D., Ark.) and Daniel Inouye (D., Hawaii), the bill would increase the maximum civil penalty for violations to $100 million from $1.8 million, compel more public disclosure of confidential safety information, allow state attorneys general to enforce product safety laws, tighten lead-content standards for children's toys and jewelry, require certification by the CPSC of testing laboratories and loosen the standard for "knowing and willful violations."The bill would also increase staffing at the commission to 500 employees from 420, authorize a funding increase to $80 million for fiscal year 2009 from $62.4 million for fiscal 2007, with a 10 percent increase per year, peaking at $141.7 million in 2015.

Apparel importers, already faced with strict commission standards on flammability, drawstrings and hazardous substances, are concerned with many of the bill's provisions.

Kevin Burke, president and chief executive officer of the American Apparel & Footwear Association, said in a letter to Pryor that the association supports the bill's increase in funding and staffing, but opposes aspects of the legislation, including a "whistle-blower" provision that would reward employees who are fired for reporting product safety issues with as much as a $25 million share of any civil penalties and give the states the right to bring independent civil actions.

On the other side of the debate, the Consumer Federation of America applauded the bill, arguing that the new penalties and more disclosure will act as a deterrent.

The measure now moves to the full Senate and a companion bill is set to be introduced in the House.

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