In Significant Victory for Consumers, the CPSC Begins Rulemaking to Ban Class Flame Retardants in Consumer Products and Urges Removal of These Chemicals
In response to a petition filed by leading consumer, healthcare, firefighter and science groups, the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) took three critical steps last week toward protecting consumers and firefighters from the hazards posed by a class of flame retardant chemicals known as organohalogens. The CPSC granted the petition filed by Earthjustice and CFA on behalf of 10 groups and individuals and directed the Commission’s staff to begin the rulemaking process to ban the sale of four categories of consumer products if they contain any organohalogen flame retardant.
“The CPSC sent an unequivocal message today that it will protect children, firefighters and all consumers from the known and well documented hazards posed by organohalogen flame retardants in consumer products,” stated CFA Legislative Director Rachel Weintraub in a press statement. “We applaud the steps taken today.”
This entire class of chemicals has been associated with serious human health problems, including cancer, reduced sperm count, increased time to pregnancy, decreased IQ in children, impaired memory, learning deficits, hyperactivity, hormone disruption and lowered immunity, according to extensive scientific evidence.
The CPSC’s vote to grant the petition will start a rulemaking process at the CPSC. However, because the rulemaking process will take time, the Commission also issued guidance to manufacturers, urging them not to use these chemicals in the production of children’s products, mattresses, furniture and the casings of electronics ,” the groups stated. The CPSC also announced that it will convene a scientific panel to provide guidance to assist the Commission staff regarding the hazards posed by organohalogen flame retardants.
FCC Seeks to Relinquish Broadband Privacy Regulatory Authority to FTC
The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) is seeking to relinquish its authority to regulate broadband privacy to the Federal Trade Commission (FTC), a move consumer advocates argue would leave consumers with inadequate privacy protections on broadband networks. In response, CFA and a number of consumer advocacy groups sent a letter last month urging FCC Chairman Ajit Pai to retain jurisdiction over broadband privacy.
“The FCC has long recognized that broadband is the essential communications service of the 21st century,” the letter stated. “Americans rely on broadband for basic communications, education, employment, healthcare, news and information, and civic engagement. Because broadband is so critical to everyday life, consumers expect and deserve adequate protections when accessing these networks, including a standard level of privacy.”
Section 222 of the Telecommunications Act of 1996 gives the FCC the appropriate statutory framework to protect consumer broadband privacy given the unique role broadband service providers have in the internet ecosystem, they wrote. But the FCC’s proposal to return broadband privacy jurisdiction to the FTC would leave consumers with inadequate privacy protections.
Not only does the FTC lacks rulemaking authority, but it is constrained by the limits of section 5 of the Federal Trade Commission Act to apply the same, general “unfair and deceptive standard” to all online privacy issues. Thus, the FTC could only pursue enforcement actions after consumers have been harmed and their privacy has been compromised in some way. Additionally, section 5 requires the FTC to conduct a cost-benefit analysis prior to pursuing an enforcement action. This analysis treats consumer privacy as a “commodity to be balanced against other considerations rather than a fundamental right.”
“Consumers expect adequate privacy protections when accessing broadband networks. Unfortunately, enforcement actions without the ability to adopt bright line rules are not enough to protect consumer broadband privacy,” the groups concluded.
CFA Urges Strengthened Food Safety Protections as Part of USDA Regulatory Reform Plan
In response to a U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) request for help identifying regulations “in need of reform,” CFA submitted a comment letter earlier this month urging adoption of stronger food safety protections by USDA’s Food Safety Inspection Service (FSIS).
The letter notes that the Trump Administration’s “regulatory reform” initiative is premised on the notion that excessive federal regulation is hurting consumers’ pocketbooks, but makes the point that inadequate regulation in defense of public health likely has a larger impact.
“There is a steady stream of highly publicized foodborne illness outbreaks and large recalls of contaminated foods ranging from ground turkey to chicken breasts to cucumbers, frozen strawberries, and papaya,” said CFA Food Policy Director Thomas Gremillion. “Public opinion research shows that over the past four years Americans have lost confidence that the food they eat and feed their children is safe. Concern about the safety of imported food, especially from China, is a potential threat to international food trade.”
To address these concerns, and ensure that the Administration’s zest for promoting trade does not compromise food safety, CFA’s letter urges the Trump Administration to appoint a qualified public health expert to serve as Under Secretary for Food Safety and lead FSIS. Under strong leadership, FSIS could undertake many reforms to produce “significant financial benefits in the form of avoided medical costs, fewer sick days, and other savings.” In particular, the letter recommends that FSIS modify its interpretation of “adulterant” to include antibiotic resistant strains of Salmonella, improve collection and analysis of pathogen data to better assess recent inspection “modernization” proposals, increase incentives to control pathogens before they enter through the slaughterhouse door, and make data on individual slaughterhouses’ and meat processors’ compliance with food safety rules more easily accessible to the public, so that market forces are brought to bear on poor performers.
“An outbreak caused by one unchecked bad actor can cripple an industry for years, generating millions or even billions of dollars in losses,” the letter notes. That’s why investing in strong food safety regulation will end up saving taxpayers and industry money in the long run.
DC Council Considers Bill to Secure Broadband Privacy
The Council of the District of Columbia (D.C.) is currently considering a bill, the Broadband Internet Privacy Act of 2017, that would provide D.C. residents increased choice, security, and transparency over how internet service providers (ISPs) use data they collect from and about their customers. CFA and other public interest groups wrote in support of the bill, noting that it is incumbent upon local governments to fill that gap in protections for consumers that was created when Congress voted to repeal the Federal Communications Commission’s (FCC) Broadband Privacy Rule. As a result of that action, there are no clear rules governing how ISPs can use or disclose customer data. ISPs have unique insight into customer activity due to their ability to access a vast amount of data from and about their consumers. When consumers connect to the internet, ISPs are able to view their online behavior, including traffic which can convey very sensitive information such as race or nationality, sexual preference, religion, physical location, presence at home, personal banking details, and physical ailments. Even if traffic is encrypted, ISPs still know the sites and services their customers use.
With such comprehensive data, ISPs can create intricately detailed profiles of their customers to sell to the highest bidder for a variety of purposes, including targeted digital advertisements for products like payday loans or expensive and unnecessary medications. A YouGov poll published in March 2017 showed that most Americans do not want to be subjected to such invasive advertising practices, with 72 percent of Americans (from both parties) saying they wanted President Trump to veto the measure that repealed the FCC’s Broadband Privacy Rule. “Just as we do not expect a cell carrier to listen to our phone calls, we should not expect them to watch and sell our web browsing and app usage history,” the groups said in the letter.
The bill requires transparency of privacy practices, customers’ consent for certain uses or disclosures of their online activities by their ISP, reasonable data security measures to safeguard their internet use from inadvertent disclosure, and notification to consumers and other entities in the event of a breach exposing their online activity.