President Trump has made it official: He intends to nominate Nancy B. Beck, a chemical industry insider and a scientist who built a record at the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency of scaling back safeguards against toxic substances, to lead one of the nation’s top and lately troubled consumer safety watchdogs.
The ascent of Beck to head the Consumer Product Safety Commission has been anticipated and is unsurprising. It still angered consumer groups and Democrats, who pointed to her record at the EPA, saying it already shows she is ill-suited to put the public’s interest above industry concerns.
As the Washington Post reported:
“Beck joined the Trump administration in May 2017, when she was tapped to be a top deputy in the EPA’s toxic chemical unit. She previously had been an executive with the chemical industry’s main trade organization, the American Chemistry Council. At the EPA, Beck has helped scale back several policies aimed at curbing federal limits on toxic chemicals. The agency reversed course on two powerful solvents linked to neurological defects, TCE and NMP, rather than finalize a ban initiated under President Barack Obama. Last year, her office redefined the way the EPA determines the health and safety risks associated with hazardous chemicals, by focusing on direct physical contact and not their impact through exposure from the ground, air or water.”
If confirmed by the U.S. Senate, Beck, as the CPSC chair, would have day-to-day control of the agency and “provide Republicans with a 3-2 advantage on its five-member [governing] commission,” the newspaper reported.
The position and GOP control of the CPSC is significant for American consumers, the New York Times reported, because:
“The Consumer Product Safety Commission investigates the safety of products, ranging from studying whether drawstrings on children’s’ coats and sweatshirts pose a choking risk, or whether to issue a recall of lead-tainted toys from China. Watchdog groups say the agency, which was created in 1972 to protect the public against “unreasonable risks” from consumer products suffers from budget cuts and insufficient staff to monitor the more than 15,000 regulated items.”
As the Washington Post noted, the CPSC now is headed by Robert Adler, a Democrat and acting chairman for two months. He replaced Ann Marie Buerkle, a Republican who had served as acting chairwoman since early 2017:
“Buerkle withdrew her nomination to lead the agency earlier this year and departed the CPSC in October, after support to give her a new seven-year term faded with criticism related to the agency’s handling of two high-profile product safety cases. During Buerkle’s tenure, an investigation by The Washington Post found she had kept the Democratic commissioners in the dark about the agency’s investigation into the safety of Britax’s BOB jogging strollers and then helped end a court case seeking a stroller recall. Buerkle also led the CPSC when the agency was criticized for being slow to force a recall of Fisher-Price’s Rock ‘n Play inclined sleeper, a device tied to more than 30 infant deaths.”
Among the issues that confront the agency now is regulation of fire-retardant chemicals used in kids’ products and furniture. Trump officials said that Beck’s expertise, including her master’s and Ph.D. in environmental health and her experience in weighing scientific disputes, will be beneficial in her CPSC role.
But the head of the Environmental Working Group, a nonprofit public health advocacy organization, denounced her, saying, “Nancy Beck is the last person who should be in charge of safeguarding the American people from dangerous products.”
In my practice, I see not only the harms that patients suffer while seeking medical services, but also the damage that can be inflicted on consumers by defective and dangerous products, especially those of the medical kind.
It is important for members of panels like the CPSC to weigh with care the interests of businesses and consumers, ensuring that bureaucrats don’t act in excess. But there’s a hot and special place below for public servants who bow to companies that injure or kill babies and children in the pursuit of big profits. Meantime, big, wealthy companies can wield considerable power and sway in Washington, D.C., and consumers need to know that taxpayer-supported agencies safeguard them and their interests, too. The CPSC is too important and prominent a watchdog to be neutered by pro-business partisanship.
The administration needed to assure the public that it takes product safety seriously and that inspiring leadership would pick up a beleaguered agency. Beck doesn’t seem close to being up for that task. Voters should remember this choice and the many other poor nominees or acting bureaucrats that have marked the Trump tenure.