The Consumer Product Safety Commission would be relegated to the role of a study group rather than a regulatory agency if Congress passes a controversial amendment to the bill authorizing the agency, according to Commissioners Edith Barksdale Sloan and Stuart M. Statler.
Slaon said that it would be a "terrible mistake" for lawmakers to approve the amendment, sponsored by Rep. Elliott H. Levitas (D-Ga.), which would strip the CPSC of its independent rule-making powers and require any major new regulation to be approved by both chambers of Congress and signed by the president.
"It takes a lot of time to do the job of protecting the public from unreasonable risks. And Congress doesn't have that much time. That is why they created the commission," Sloan said.
Statler warned that if the amendment were approved and applied across the board, "Congress would be so preoccupied with relatively minor matters that government would grind to a halt."
Even Vice Chairman Terrence M. Scanlon, who favors "necessary and important congressional oversight and checks," said the amendment may be "overly restrictive."
House members eager to circumvent the June 23 Supreme Court decision voiding the legislative veto moved quickly to add the amendment to the CPSC reauthorization bill, which happened to be the next reauthorization to come up.
Sponsored by Rep. Henry A. Waxman (D-Calif.), the bill, a five-year reauthorization plan with $47 million for fiscal 1984, was expected to pass handily. The Reagan administration's substitute, a three-year reauthorization with $35.7 million budgeted for fiscal 1984, was expected to go nowhere.
But after the court's ruling, the Levitas amendment was added to the administration bill. The package sailed through the House.
"Everyone inside the CPSC had been pretty happy because of the Supreme Court decision," said one staffer. "But, the joy quickly turned to sorrow with the approval of the Levitas amendment."
Among those who had applauded the court decision was Sloan. She had said it would make life for the commissioners "a lot easier and given us more respect than we get from people in industry, who know they can go and lobby Congress to their bidding."
Statler described the court ruling as a "triumph for regulatory decision-making on the merits, instead of on the basis of special interests who can woo Congress." He said that it was clear from the House debate that members supporting the Levitas amendment were searching for ways to respond quickly to the court ruling.
"But in responding quickly, they responded irresponsibly," he said.
Commission members are forbidden by law from lobbying on the Levitas amendment.
Stepping into that gap is the Consumer Federation of America, the nation's largest consumer advocacy group.
Charging that the amendment jeopardizes the lives and safety of consumers, the federation is mobilizing its membership to overturn the "killer amendment sponsored by the Georgia Democrat." Legislative director David Greenberg said that the amendment plays politics with safety and could increase injuries and deaths by delaying rule-making.
PRIORITIES. . . The commissioners hve agreed on nine budget priorities for fiscal 1982.
They include chain saws, gas heating systems, indoor air quality, smoldeirng ignition of upholstered furniture, chlorocarbons, sports equipment for young people, safety for older consumers, Section 15 of the Consumer Product Safety Act (which requires firms to report unsafe products to the commission) and toxic emissions in fires.
The Section 15 project was included in the priority list, the CPSC said, because of the dramatic increase in the number of hazardous products being reported. Ninty-six hazardous product reports were filed during fiscal 1982, according to Scanlon. The CPSC projects that 135 will be filed by the end of fiscal 1983.
A company's failure to report a hazardous product can result in civil penalties. The CPSC said that its project is designed to make industry more aware of the requirements of Section 15.
Among the projects not included on the priority list are Poison Prevention Packaging Act requirements, formaldehyde emissions from pressed wood products and dual-purpose closures for prescription drugs packaged in child-resistant containers.
The CPSC staff said that those projects will still receive attention but won't get as much money as priority projects.
UREA FOAM UPDATE . . . Even though the CPSC ban on urea formaldehyde foam insulation was overturned April 8 by the Fifth Circuit Court of Appals, it has remained in effect while further appeals are filed.
The latest extension of the ban is to expire July 7, the deadline for the court to reconsider its latest denial of a request for a rehearing. If a new hearing is granted, the ban will remain in effect for an additional period of time.
Meanwhile, the CPSC is preparing papers for the Solicitor General to take to the Supreme Court. The New Orleans court threw out the ban on the grounds that the CPSC had failed to produce the "substantial evidence necessary" to support it.