by Sally Greenberg, NCL Executive Director
Late last week, the Senate Commerce Committee held its confirmation hearing for Inez Tenenbaum, the President’s nominee to head the Consumer Product Safety Commission. Tenenbaum comes with a set of impressive credentials – she was State Superintendent of Schools for South Carolina for 9 years and in 2004 ran for the U.S. Senate – and lost against Jim DeMint (R-SC), one of the most right-of-center members of the Senate serving in Congress today. Tenenbaum is credited with working for child health and safety while State Superintendent and being a popular vote getter in the state.
Her performance during tough grilling by Commerce Committee members showed her mettle. She maintained her composure, answered a series of tough questions, and exuded Southern charm throughout the hearing. Indeed, as a testament to her winning style, the hearing began with Tenenbaum flanked on either side with both Republican Senators from South Carolina – Lindsay Graham and DeMint – both giving her their endorsement.
Tenenbaum will need all of her skill, talent, and experience: she is likely to face many challenges while implementing the Consumer Product Safety Improvement Act of 2008, the most comprehensive overall of the product safety law since the CPSC’s establishment in 1974. The CPSIA will require a handful of new standards for durable baby products, items you would find child’s nursery that have too often proved hazardous to children. The new law calls for mandatory standards on such products.
Tenenbaum will also oversee regulations on third party testing requirements for products before they hit the market, the opening up of the CPSC Web site to the public, and providing the public the ability to research product safety histories at the CPSC site. Of great concern to Senators in the South, particularly in Louisiana, is the use of imported Chinese drywall products in homes that have proved hazardous and made thousands of houses unlivable. Senator David Vitter (R-LA) urged Tenenbaum to make Chinese drywall a top priority when she is confirmed.
The CPSC, which regulates the safety of 15,000 household products, is in dire need of an infusion of funds and new leadership. Tenenbaum’s performance on Wednesday before a tough audience of U.S. Senators was impressive. She seems dedicated to and engaged in the task of making products safer, especially for children. Her winning personality will smooth the waters and help her to bridge the gap between the business and consumer communities on product safety.