Lawmakers press regulators on portable generator safety

Apr 27, 2018

WASHINGTON, D.C. – Two senior U.S. lawmakers are demanding answers from the acting head of the Consumer Product Safety Commission about her unwillingness to help improve the safety of portable generators.

U.S. Sens. Bill Nelson (D-FL) and Richard Blumenthal (D-CT) sent a letter today to Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) Acting Chairwoman Ann Marie Buerkle pressing her to provide details on any steps she’s taking to ensure consumers can purchase new, safer portable generators in advance of this year’s hurricane season.

The senators are also seeking an explanation on her refusal to sign a series of letters her fellow CPSC commissioners sent two weeks ago to seven major retailers – including Home Depot, Lowes and Walmart – requesting they voluntarily supply and sell safer generators.

Buerkle has previously been accused of being too cozy with the portable generator industry, which she now regulates. In fact, during her nomination hearing before the Senate Commerce Committee, Nelson chastised Buerkle for doing little to improve the safety of portable generators in the wake of several carbon monoxide poisoning-related deaths following Hurricane Irma.

“How many more deaths in the aftermath of this hurricane are we going to have to see before we finally get the regulatory process of the United States government off its posterior and start doing something about protecting the safety of the people, the consumers, who have a huge desire now to buy generators,” Nelson asked Buerkle at the hearing.

Nelson has long advocated that the CPSC require either automatic shut-off switches when CO reaches dangerous levels or devices that limit CO output from portable generators.

Buerkle, on the other hand, has so far refused to support a mandatory portable generator standard deferring to voluntary industry efforts.

Buerkle’s nomination to serve as the CPSC’s permanent chair is still awaiting approval by the full Senate.

Below is the text of the lawmakers’ letter to Buerkle. The CPSC commissioners’ letters to the seven retailers can be found here.

Click here for a recent news article on Nelson’s questioning of Buerkle during her September 2017 nomination hearing

April 27, 2018

The Honorable Ann Marie Buerkle
Acting Chairman
U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission
4330 East West Highway
Bethesda, MD  20814
Dear Acting Chairman Buerkle:
We write today to request an update on your specific efforts to ensure that consumers are able to purchase new, safer portable generators in advance of the coming summer hurricane and storm season.
On April 13, 2018, three of your fellow commissioners sent letters to the major national retailers of portable generators asking them to voluntarily consider stocking generator units by this summer that adhere to new voluntary safety standards that require reduced carbon monoxide (CO) emissions and/or CO detection and shutoff technology.  In light of the 12 carbon monoxide fatalities in Florida after Hurricane Irma linked to portable generators, as well as recent portable generator linked deaths in the Northeast United States, the need for action in this area is urgent.  Unfortunately, it is our understanding that you declined to sign these letters.
Accordingly, we would like to know your justification for refusing to sign these letters as well as your plan for ensuring that consumers have access to safer models of portable generators in the coming months.
We request a response as soon as possible, and no later than May 4, 2018.  Thank you in advance for your attention to this critical safety issue.