CFA News Update - June 5, 2010

CPSC Adopts Mandatory Baby Bath Seat Safety Standards

The Consumer Product Safety Commission issued mandatory safety standards for baby bath seats last week, a move consumer groups praised as “a step in the right direction for addressing some of the design shortcomings that have contributed to many infant drownings” over the years. According to data from CPSC, there were 174 reported deaths involving bath seats from 1983 through November 2009 and 300 reported non-fatal bath seat incidents.

In 2000, CFA, Kids in Danger, and other consumer groups petitioned CPSC to ban baby bath seats, but the agency denied the ban, choosing instead to pursue a rulemaking. Ultimately, even that effort stalled, and the CPSC deferred to an ASTM voluntary standard for baby bath seats that inadequately addressed hazards posed by this product.

“CFA has been working to ban baby bath seats and educate consumers about the risks they pose to babies for over 10 years,” said CFA General Counsel Rachel Weintraub. “We are gratified that the Commission took this important step to eliminate bath seat designs currently on the market that have proven to be unsafe.”

In praising the new standards, the groups emphasized that no bath seat currently on the market or in use meets the standards, and they renewed their warning to parents and caregivers to always keep a baby within arm’s reach while bathing them in a bathtub or any bath product. Leaving a baby unattended for a mere few seconds can lead to injury or death – even in a small amount of water.

Americans Strongly Support Reducing Oil Consumption

Even before the massive Gulf Coast oil spill provided a graphic illustration of the environmental hazards associated with our dependence on oil, Americans strongly supported reduced oil consumption and tougher fuel economy standards. In a survey commissioned by CFA and conducted in late March by Opinion Research Corp., 87 percent of respondents said it is “important that the country reduce its consumption of oil,” while more than half (54 percent) said this was “very important.”

This strong support for reduced oil consumption helps to explain why nearly two-thirds (65 percent) of respondents agreed that “the government should increase the fuel economy standard to an average of 50 miles per gallon (mpg) by 2025.” A new standard at this level would double the 25 mpg average of the current motor vehicle fleet and increase the 35 mpg standard set for 2016 by 15 mpg.

“Our survey data strongly suggests that the American public is getting very close to the point, if they’re not already there, where they are prepared to support radical measures to break our nation’s dependence on oil and oil imports,” said CFA Public Affairs Director Jack Gillis. “The Gulf oil spill can only have increased this support.”

At the same time that it released the survey, CFA released a report by CFA Research Director Mark Cooper that links the survey results to an analysis of oil market fundamentals – supply, demand, imports, price and household expenditures. In the report, the changes in fundamentals are charted across time in comparison to the trends in attitudes, and the relationship between the two is examined.

“More information changes public attitudes,” Cooper noted, citing as an example the fact that polls conducted since the oil spill had shown a sharp reduction in support for offshore drilling and an increase in concern about its environmental impacts. “If consumers knew that increasing passenger fleet fuel economy to 50 mpg would save more oil in just two years than all proved reserves in the Gulf of Mexico, I believe the support for radical change would increase dramatically.”

Conferees To Begin Work on Financial Regulatory Reform Bill

As Congress returns from the Memorial Day recess this week, the Conference Committee to resolve differences in the House and Senate financial regulatory reform bills is expected to get underway. The administration and congressional leaders have set July 4 as their target date for completion of the bill, an ambitious goal that will demand quick resolution of disputed issues. CFA sent a letter to the Hill this week briefly outlining key consumer and investor protection priorities.

The stage was set for conference negotiations with passage May 20 of the Senate bill. The House voted out its version of reform legislation last December.

CFA Legislative Director Travis Plunkett responded to passage of the Senate bill with a statement that makes clear the importance of conference committee negotiations: “This is a crucial step toward delivering on the promise Congress made when it called on taxpayers to bail out the big banks, that it would adopt comprehensive financial reform,” he said. “If the best reforms from the Senate and House bills are melded together, the result will be a bold new law that will protect consumers and investors from abusive practices and the economy from financial shocks for generations.”

Groups Urge Sponsors to Strengthen Draft Internet Privacy Bill

A group of ten leading consumer and privacy organizations, including CFA, wrote to the Chairman and Ranking Member of the House Communications, Technology and the Internet Subcommittee this week, calling for draft legislation on Internet privacy to be significantly strengthened.

Among other things, they recommended that the bill prohibit the collection of more information than is necessary for the stated purposes, that limits be set on how long the information can be retained, that consumers be given the right to access and correct their data, that the definition of what constitutes “sensitive information” be expanded, and that the bill require strict “opt-in” procedures for the collection and use of covered data and prohibit the use of sensitive information for any use beyond the transaction for which the consumer provided it.

“We’re tired of companies paying lip-service to privacy but using consumers’ personal information for whatever they want, without giving consumers any meaningful control,” said CFA Consumer Protection Director Susan Grant. “We need a law that forces companies to build respect for privacy into their business models, and we believe that they will ultimately benefit from increased consumer confidence.”

Independent Assessment Recommended for TSA Body Scan Devices

CFA joined with eleven other groups and individuals to write to the chairmen of the House and Senate Homeland Security Committees in late May urging that the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) be prevented from deploying full-body scanning devices in U.S. airports until an independent review of the devices’ health effects, effectiveness and privacy safeguards is completed.

By the end of next year, two out of every three passengers will be directed to enter one of these machines for a head-to-toe body scan, the groups noted in their letter. A large number of these devices will be the ‘backscatter’ scanner which uses low-dose x-rays to scan passengers. Although the DHS claims that the x-ray doses pose negligible health risks to passengers, independent scientists and radiation experts have disputed that claim. Concerns have also been raised about the effectiveness of the scanners and about inadequate protections to prevent the recording and storage of what amount to naked images of passengers.

“Before millions of dollars are committed to deploying the full-body scanning program in every airport, the impact on consumers’ health and privacy should be carefully analyzed,” said CFA Consumer Protection Director Susan Grant. “The government should consider alternatives that present fewer problems and better protection from potential threats.”