At Consumers Union, the policy and advocacy arm of Consumer Reports, we fight for stronger consumer-focused legislation and safer products in the marketplace. Last year—2013—was another busy and important year for our organization. Here are some of the highlights of consumer victories over the past 12 months:
Auto safety: We joined with other safety advocates in filing a federal lawsuit against the U.S. Department of Transportation for failing to set standards to prevent vehicle backover accidents. which cause more than 200 deaths and 18,000 injuries each year. Congress enacted a law five years ago to require these standards, but after the DOT delayed the standards four separate times, we asked a court to order the agency to promptly set the rules as the law mandates. A court date is pending.
Energy efficiency and fuel economy: Ohio lawmakers took up a controversial bill backed by utility companies that would gut the state’s energy-efficiency programs. These programs were designed to save customers money on their utility bills and conserve energy. We rallied our activists in Ohio, who flooded the in-boxes of their representatives with messages opposing the bill. Following our efforts, the legislature decided to cancel hearings on the bill—not once, but twice. This bill will likely resurface again in 2014, but we will keep fighting the good fight.
We also held a special forum on the latest innovations in fuel-efficient cars, where we unveiled a national study (PDF) that found car owners will save thousands of dollars over the lifetime of their new vehicles under the latest fuel economy standards.
Financial protection: We generated more than 200,000 signatures, e-mails, and phone calls in support of the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, the consumer watchdog created to police banks, lenders, and other financial services. When industry lobbyists and lawmakers tried to muzzle the agency and stop Director Richard Cordray from carrying out the CFPB’s mission, we fought back on several fronts, including a telephone town hall meeting to rally people to contact their senators. The Senate ultimately approved Cordray, giving the CFPB its first full-fledged director.
Food safety: The Food and Drug Administration banned the use of BPA in infant-formula packaging, following last year’s ban of its use in baby bottles and sippy cups. We continue to lobby to have BPA removed from all food and beverage containers. Following our report on arsenic in apple juice, the FDA proposed a limit on arsenic in apple juice. The FDA also released data showing levels of arsenic found in rice samples, with a pledge to study the long-term effects of arsenic on public health, in response to Consumer Reports' findings on arsenic levels in rice. Also, states are passing laws requiring genetically modified foods to be labeled; Connecticut has one on the books, and Maine and Vermont are close. And so far, we’ve beaten back attempts in Congress to kill country-of-origin labels on supermarket meat.
Health care: Health insurance companies can no longer can deny you coverage if you have a preexisting condition, get really sick, or need a lot of care. And this year insurers had to give back $500 million to 8.5 million Americans because the companies spent too much on things such as advertising, overhead and CEO salaries. Half the states expanded Medicaid coverage to low-income working families and adults, with most of the cost covered through the Affordable Care Act. We fought attempts to pass a new bill in Washington state that aimed to lessen accountability for hospital-acquired infections, and we persuaded lawmakers to amend the bill to promote greater transparency and protections. To help people understand how health-care reform impacts them personally, we also launched the free Health Law Helper tool.
Telecommunications: A change in federal rules left consumers unable to legally “unlock” their cell phones so they could use a different wireless service on their handset. We pressed companies and regulators to find a solution that would restore the right in order to give customers more flexibility and choices. The Federal Communications Commission recently announced a voluntary industry agreement with major carriers that would give consumers the ability and information to unlock their mobile devices.
In 2014 we'll keep fighting to make sure consumers get a fair shake in the marketplace. We invite you to learn at ConsumersUnion.org.