Politics & Government

Senate panel confirms Northup for product safety agency post

Anne Northup meets with President George W. Bush in 2002.
Anne Northup meets with President George W. Bush in 2002. Mark Cornelison / Lexington Herald-Leader / MCT

WASHINGTON — A Senate committee voted Wednesday to confirm Anne Northup, a former Republican congresswoman from Kentucky, to help oversee the regulation of consumer products.

Northup, who still needs full Senate confirmation before she can take the post, would be part of a shake-up at the Consumer Product Safety Commission, a long-neglected agency that oversees the sale and manufacture of more than 15,000 consumer products.

At her confirmation hearing Wednesday, she highlighted her political independence and experience fighting for consumers.

"I am sure you expect commissioners to rise above their party designation and act as a team to protect the American people," said Northup, who served in Congress for five terms before losing in 2006. She made a failed bid for governor in Kentucky in 2007.

"I've always thought public policy is best when you've got every idea and every insight on the table," she said.

Northup, along with nominee Robert Adler, a Democrat and a professor of strategy and entrepreneurship at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, would expand the agency from three commissioners to five, a requirement of last year's Consumer Product Safety Improvement Act.

The commission faces many complex issues, including whether to ban Chinese-made drywall, which has been blamed for multiple health problems, and how to develop rules safety rules for all-terrain vehicles after a series of fatal accidents involving young riders.

One consumer group, however, said Northup's lack of experience in consumer products was unnerving.

"She hasn't worked directly in consumer product safety, so she doesn't have a clear track record," said Christine Hines, the consumer and civil justice counsel at Public Citizen, an advocacy group. "We really don't know what she's going to do."

Every year, consumer products cause about 28,000 deaths and 33 million injuries, according to the commission. More than two-thirds of all consumer products are imported, and two-thirds of all product recalls involve imports.

To give the agency more clout, last year's overhaul act imposed stricter requirements on how much lead products can have, required more rigorous testing and created new fines for noncompliance.

Northup's confirmation process has progressed quickly. President Barack Obama announced her nomination on July 30, and a date was set for her hearing the next day. The committee heard her testimony Wednesday morning and approved her nomination in the afternoon.

Sen. Roger Wicker, R-Miss., urged Northup and the commission to hurry to find a solution to the problem of Chinese-made drywall. Wicker, who served with Northup in the House of Representatives, also praised her, calling her "fearless."

"She calls it as she sees it, whether you like it or not," he said.

Northup, who wasn't pressed hard by senators at the hearing, acknowledged that the issues with Chinese-made drywall are enormous. "You can throw a pacifier out," she said, but when drywall is a problem, "You can't throw your home out."

Northup also said she'd be "flexible" in creating guidelines for lead in toys, because some products need small amounts of the toxic metal to work properly.

She also vowed to try to help consumers who may have bought recalled goods. Sometimes those who live in rural areas or without Internet access miss the recall notices, Northup said, and it's not enough to just post them on the commission's Web site.


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