By Annys Shin
Washington Post Staff Writer
Saturday, January 26, 2008
The White House is considering a scientist who has frequently testified and written on behalf of the energy, pesticide and tobacco industries to chair the nation's chief product-safety regulator.
A White House spokesman declined to comment on plans to replace acting Consumer Product Safety Commission chairman Nancy A. Nord. Over the past two months, Bush administration officials have vetted several prospective candidates to lead the beleaguered agency, according to sources who were consulted about the candidates. The sources spoke on condition of anonymity because the White House has not made an announcement.
The front-runner, the sources said, is Gail Charnley, who has a doctorate in toxicology from Massachusetts Institute of Technology and runs her own consulting firm, HealthRisk Strategies. She has served on several high-level government advisory panels, including National Academy of Sciences committees. She was well regarded as director of an NAS toxicology program in the mid-1990s.
"It would be great to have a scientist running the CPSC. I've always found Gail to be very open-minded and fair-minded and astute about public health risks," said Jonathan Wiener, who teaches law and environmental policy at Duke University.
Charnley is less popular with environmental advocates, who criticized her work on behalf of industry. In 2006, for example, she wrote an op-ed article in the St. Louis Post-Dispatch opposing tougher restrictions on power-plant emissions in neighboring Illinois on behalf of Americans for Balanced Energy Choices, a nonprofit group funded by utilities, railroads and mining companies. In 2004, she and a colleague wrote a letter to the technical journal Environmental Health Perspectives about a study on human testing of pesticides that they had co-authored without disclosing that it had been funded partly by pesticide makers. The journal's editor ran a disclosure after Charnley and her colleague disputed having a conflict of interest.
Charnley was also a consultant for the tobacco industry from the early 1990s through 2001, according to internal tobacco industry documents collected as a part of the 1998 master settlement between the industry and 46 state attorneys general.
"She's not thought of as a consumer advocate per se but as someone hired by industry to represent their point of view," said Lynn Goldman, a former assistant administrator for the Environmental Protection Agency under President Bill Clinton, who has testified at hearings with Charnley.
Charnley did not return e-mails or phone messages left at her office.
Other contenders for the nomination include Jacqueline Glassman, a former deputy administrator at the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, and John Kupsch, a former technical director of the Good Housekeeping Research Institute, the product-testing arm of the magazine.
Glassman, now a partner at the law firm of Hogan & Hartson, had joined the traffic safety administration after serving as an in-house attorney for Chrysler. At the agency, she oversaw work on side-impact regulations that auto-safety advocates lauded for improving head protection. Reached at her office Wednesday, Glassman said she had not been contacted about the CPSC job.
Kupsch recently left Good Housekeeping to be a vice president of product safety for Amscan, an Elmsford, N.Y., designer, manufacturer and distributor of party goods and owner of the Party City retail chain. When asked whether he had been approached as a possible nominee for CPSC chairman, Kupsch said, "I can't comment on matters confidential to the White House."
Recruiting candidates for CPSC chairman has been difficult for the administration. A nominee for chairman has to survive a Senate confirmation, and if approved, face the prospect of having to step down soon after if Democrats win the White House in November.
The last attempt to fill the job ended in failure. The administration's nominee, Michael Baroody, a longtime lobbyist for the National Association of Manufacturers, withdrew his name in May after his nomination ignited a backlash among Senate Democrats and consumer groups. They criticized his ties to NAM, which represents companies with business before the CPSC, and a $150,000 severance payment he was to receive from the trade group. NAM officials have said the severance agreement was worked out months before Baroody was nominated.
A new CPSC chairman could bring much-needed stability to the small independent agency, which is charged with protecting consumers from "unreasonable risk" of death and injury from more than 15,000 types of products.
The three-member commission has been without an appointed leader since former chairman Harold Stratton stepped down in July 2006. Nord, a former official with the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, has been acting chairman since then.
Last fall, Democrats in Congress demanded Nord resign for opposing provisions of a Senate bill that would have given the CPSC more authority to disclose information about product hazards and raised the maximum penalty to $100 million from $1.8 million for manufacturers that fail to report problems. In letters to lawmakers, Nord said such measures would be counterproductive by encouraging litigation and stifling cooperation from industry. She declined to comment for this article.
The vacancy on the commission has hampered its ability to initiate mandatory recalls and approve new safety regulations, which require a quorum of three members.
By law, the commission was able to operate with a quorum of two for six months after Stratton left. The quorum lapsed for several months until Congress granted the CPSC another six-month extension in August. That reprieve is set to end Feb. 3.
Staff writer Elizabeth Williamson contributed to this report.