Class Action and Product Insights for Your Business
June 07, 2018 - Consumer Products, CPSC

New Nomination Could Mean Partisan Tiebreaker for CPSC

On June 4th, President Trump nominated Peter Feldman to fill the fifth seat on the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) and serve out the remainder of prior Commissioner Joe Mohorovic’s vacated seven-year term ending in October 2019. If confirmed, Mr. Feldman’s nomination may be the lynchpin for a new era of CPSC regulatory strategy.

Since 2011, Mr. Feldman has served as Senior Counsel to the U.S. Senate Committee on Commerce, Science, and Transportation. That Committee oversees the consumer-protection efforts of agencies such as the Federal Trade Commission (FTC), the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), and CPSC. Before that, Mr. Feldman worked with the National Republican Congressional Committee and on Senator John McCain’s 2008 presidential campaign.

Following the previously reported confirmation of Commissioner Dana Baiocco, Mr. Feldman’s confirmation would tip the partisan balance of the CPSC to a 3-2 Republican majority. That would usher in the first Republican-controlled CPSC since 2006 — a radical change from the Commission’s 3-1 Democrat majority that existed before Commissioner Baiocco’s replacement of prior Commissioner and Obama appointee Marietta Robinson.

This could mean a sea change for CPSC’s partisan regulatory decisions, which include promulgating safety standards, working with companies on voluntary recalls, and imposing monetary penalties. Earlier this year, departing Commissioner Robinson vocalized that a Trump-appointed majority would “neuter the agency,” suggesting that these members would put a pro-business agenda ahead of consumer safety. Ms. Robinson noted that the shift in the Commission’s makeup could embolden companies to ignore or stall compliance with CPSC directives.

Across the aisle, Acting Chairman Buerkle advocates for cooperation with companies and voluntary regulations as a more effective and easier path to ensure consumer safety. Chairman Buerkle, who has been criticized for her hesitation to vote for recalls, heavy fines, and tougher safety standards, opined that the Commission became “too emotionally reactive” under the Obama administration. Chairman Buerkle was herself originally nominated by President Obama in 2013 and recently re nominated by President Trump.

What might this new nomination mean for manufacturers? On the one hand, a Republican CPSC may be more amenable to cooperative relationships with companies, which could require manufacturers to spend more of their own legal resources on collaborative compliance up-front. On the other hand, if the industry abuses the goodwill of a deregulation-friendly Commission, the pendulum could swing back toward stricter regulation.

Mr. Feldman’s nomination, as well as Acting Chairman Buerkle’s nomination for permanent Chairman and for another term, awaits approval. However, this is yet another clear signal from the Trump administration of the pro-industry shifts intended for CPSC.

*Co-author  Alexander Najarian is a summer associate in our San Diego office.