S. John Byington

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S. John Byington, was a lobbyist and lawyer with Pillsbury Madison & Sutro who was the former do-nothing Chairman of the Consumer Products Safety Commission under President Ford and the deputy director of the Office of Consumer Affairs at HEW (Health, Education and Welfare) under Ronald Reagan. He also worked for the tobacco industry and during his lifetime he been a full-time lobbyist for a number of other industry advocacy-institutes:

Byington is described in these terms in this Jan 1982 article exposing the true nature of the American Council on Science & Health, (ACSH) run by Elizabeth Whelan for the chemical industry.

"Voodoo Science, Twisted Consumerism, the Golden Assurances of ACSH.

Another member of [Elizabeth] Whelan's team is Washington lawyer and lobbyist S. John Byington, one of the more flamboyant and controversial members of the capital's business-government revolving door cadre.

Byington, who is listed as ACSH's policy advisor, was formerly chairman of the Consumer Product Safety Commission, a White House deputy special assistant for consumer affairs under President Ford, and the deputy director of the Office of Consumer Affairs in the Department of Health, Education and Welfare.

Despite these seemingly impeccable credentials, Byington is the sort of paper consumer advocate who fits in perfectly with the American Council's veneer of authenticity.

Byington's own confirmation testimony was sufficiently unconvincing that it took the Senate almost a month and two votes to approve him. He survived as head of the agency only two years, resigning under heavy pressure from Congress for mismanagement, excessive travel and other questionable expenses, lack of adherence to personnel policies, and general agency inaction.

When [tobacco lobbyist/supporter] Sen. Wendell Ford (D-Ky. ) asked for Byington's resignation from the Consumer Product Safety Commission, he said, "I blame Byington for the inability of the CPSC to act effectively, and I'm concerned that he may have done permanent damage to the agency's credibility." (Every year, under Byington, the Commission's budget was reduced, and only a handful of consumer products were regulated during the period.)

After leaving CPSC in the summer of 1978 Byington reentered the public policy field from the other side, defending variety of companies and industries that were resisting consumer protection regulation.

Late in 1978 he held a press conference with Republican fundraiser Barbara Keating to denounce auto air bags. Later, he became lobbyist for the Cellulose Manufacturers Institute in its effort to continue to allow chemially treated cellulose to be used as house insulation.

Byington's most recent foray into the science and health public policy field concerned formaldehyde, a common industial chemical used in such items as home building products, plywood, mobile homes, permanent-press clothes, air freshner, and mascara.


Clearly Byington is a man who has made a career out of promoting corporate advocacy institutions, whether they are acting to harm people or not.


Documents & Timeline

He was brought up in Grand Rapids, Michigan

1961-64 Byington served as Director of Public Affairs and Public Relations for the American Pharmaceutical Association in Washington, DC

1964 Back in Grand Rapids, Michigan as Assistant Prosecuting Attorney of Kent County. He was also active in Michigan Governor George Romney's re-election campaign.

1965 - 68 on Governor Romney's staff in various capacities.

1968 - 72 He says that he "practiced law and held corporate executive posts in Michigan-based communications and international trade firms."

1972 [mid-year] joining the U.S. Department of Commerce as Director of the Detroit Office,

1972 [late] "He returned to government service as National Export Marketing Director of the US. Department of Commerce in Washington, DC."

1974 Deputy Special Assistant for Consumer Affairs to President Ford,

1976 appointed by President Ford as Chairman of the Consumer Product Safety Commission

1978 - 92 A puff-piece says that, "Mr. Byington practiced law" during this period,

1978 founder [and managing partner in Washington, DC.] of Detroit-based law firm Bushnell Gage Reizen & Byington, PC,

1978 June /E Byington °entered the public policy field from the other side, defending variety of companies and industries that were resisting consumer protection regulation. Late in 1978 he held a press conference with Republican fund-raiser Barbara Keating to denounce auto air bags.

1979 A scientific study indicated that formaldehyde is carcinogenic to rats, and the results were made known to the Consumer Product Safety Commission, as required by law. There is a broad consensus that formaldehyde is a carcinogen; The Commission had the option of banning the substance, regulating its use, or merely requiring a warning label. Shortly thereafter, the Formaldehyde Institute, the industry trade association, hired Byington to represent it.

1979 /E He became lobbyist for the Cellulose Manufacturers Institute in its effort to continue to allow chemically treated cellulose to be used as house insulation.

1980 /E He joined the Washington, DC office of New York-based Roger Hoge & Hills

1981 May Dr Peter Infante, one of the top scientists at the Occupational Safety and Health Administration, wrote a highly critical letter attacking formaldehyde.

When Byington found out about the scientist's action, he wrote an angry letter to Infante's boss, OSHA head Thorne Auchter, in which he asked, "How do you control members of the bureauacy who seem to be operating freely within and without government?" Four weeks later, Infante received notice that he was to fired on grounds of insubordination and misrepresenting the agency using official stationery.

The event received heavy press attention and even led to a special congressional hearing. In the end Infante was not fired, in what Rep. Albert Gore (D-Tenn. ) called "a victory for the integrity of science and for the right of free expression." However, in a sense, Byington got what he wanted -- Infante had been sobered by the ordeal, and OSHA may well change its position on formaldehyde altogether. [3]

1981 NovElizabeth Whelan, the head of the American Council on Science & Health had never done a study of formaldehyde, but she released a statement saying "I do not believe, from what I've read, that it poses a cancer hazard to human beings." A broad consensus that formaldehyde is a carcinogen is shared by the National Cancer Institute, National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health, National Center for Toxicological Research, and even the Chemical Industry Institute of Toxicology. However the International Agency for Research on Cancer. doesn't agree.

1982 Jan The Center for Science in the Public Interest (CSPI) published an expose:

Voodoo Science, Twisted Consumerism
The Golden Assurances of the American Council on Science and Health by Peter Harnik.

(See table item above)

1983 Sep 27 Hill & Knowlton and Valis Associates (who has just left the Reagan administration) have run a workshop on the Toxic Torts Clearinghouse which Katherine L Becker of the Tobacco Institute attended. The Clearinghouse is still in its early formation stages, and they want funding from asbestos, chemical, tobacco companies etc. (any with poisoning and polluting problems). In return for funding the Tobacco Institute would be given a seat on the board.
Workshop speakers included:

  • Thorne Auchter (later a business associate)

    In his presentation, Thorne Auchter, head of OSHA, devoted much of his time to criticizing a recent Nader report on OSHA and to answering Washington Post reports on his actions in the ethylene dibromide matter. Auchter told the audience industry must be "equally concerned about appearance, as well as substance."
    Referring to the Nader and Post items, he said "this type of public relations problem" can be avoided through a centralized information-sharing entity - a clearinghouse. In his view, such a clearinghouse would help industry deal with the "subculture of health activists."

  • Rep James J Florio (D-NJ) (He helped write the Superfund legislation, and was a critic of EPA's toxic sites cleanup operations)[4]
  • Jim Tozzi (also a later partner)

    a former high-ranking official at the Office of Management and Budget (OIRA), spoke of the "enormous potential cost" of proposed toxic victim compensation systems, citing as an example the black lung program and its costs.* According to Tozzi, if the asbestos victim compensation system proposed in H.R. 3175 were established, the costs would be nearly $30 billion annually. Because this system would be funded by the asbestos industry, the program would necessitate a $1,000 per ton tax. (Asbestos presently sells for $340 a ton.)
    As further proof of the economic burden likely to result from victim compensation, he listed the number of possible claimants for various "toxicants": silica, 3.2 million persons; cotton dust, 500,000 persons; and, radiation, 750,000 persons.

  • J. Marshall Coleman, Esq., Beveridge & Diamond, (Tozzi now worked for them) former Attorney General for Virginia, was the only person to mention smoking during the workshop. Coleman believes the present tort and workers compensation systems can handle any toxic victim compensation. He called the absestos claims situation a "unique case". Speaking about cancer, Coleman said its cause can "rarely" be pinpointed to one factor. Rather, he continued, the "vast majority of cases" of cancer are "owed to other things, like smoking...not toxic wastes."
  • S. John Byington, a lawyer with Pillsbury Madison & Sutro spoke in support of Auchter. He was "former Chairman of the Consumer Products Safety Commission and also (not admitted) head of the Formaldehyde Institute. Formaldehyde is considered to be a IAQ problem and health hazard.

The Tobacco Institute saw the Clearinghouse as a potential threat, as much as a solution. They imagined the Chemical Industry Association, might use it to divert attention to cigarettes, rather than chemicals [5]