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Ann Marie Buerkle faced pressure from Democrats to explain her position on regulating portable generators during a Senate confirmation hearing Wednesday. 

Buerkle, an Auburn native who was nominated by President Donald Trump to lead the Consumer Product Safety Commission, supports a voluntary standard for portable generator emissions. At least two Democratic senators at the hearing questioned why she wouldn't go further and support a mandate for manufacturers. 

A proposal approved by the commission in November 2016 would require manufacturers to reduce carbon monoxide emissions in certain portable generators. Supporters believe this would lower the risk of carbon monoxide poisoning. 

U.S. Sen. Bill Nelson, ranking member of the Senate Commerce, Science and Technology Committee, said 11 people in Florida have died due to carbon monoxide poisoning from portable generators in the aftermath of Hurricane Irma. 

Buerkle, a member of the commission since 2013, voted against the proposed rule last year. She has been acting chair of the agency since February and the standard hasn't been finalized. 

Nelson, D-Florida, blamed "behind-the-scenes industry lobbying" at the commission and the Environmental Protection Agency. He also criticized Buerkle's stance. 

"Your efforts to delay this potentially lifesaving rule is quite concerning," he said. 

When questioned by Nelson, Buerkle explained her vote. She believed there was a "jurisdictional issue" because the EPA, under the Clean Air Act, regulates emissions. 

Since becoming acting chair, Buerkle said the portable generator rule is the issue the commission is most engaged in. Members of the commission have visited manufacturers in Wisconsin. Industry representatives continue to have discussions with the commission about a voluntary standard for the shut-off technology. 

Nelson pressed Buerkle on whether she would support a a mandatory standard for portable generator manufacturers. She said she would have to see a proposed rule first. 

"I think the most expeditious route is this voluntary shutoff," she said. 

The hearing was the first hurdle for Buerkle's nomination. The committee will review several nominations in the coming weeks and determine whether they should advance. Once the committee approves the nominees, they will move to the full Senate for consideration. 

If confirmed, Buerkle will be the chair and serve a full seven-year term as a commissioner. 

In her opening statement, she said her focus on consumer products stems from her role as a mother and a grandmother. She has six children and 17 grandchildren. 

"Safety is always on my mind," she said. 

Online producer Robert Harding can be reached at (315) 282-2220 or Follow him on Twitter @robertharding.


Online producer/politics reporter