Fighting the Good Fight

John G. Swanson
May 15, 2010
COLUMN : Opening Remarks | Management

The first several months of 2010 represented somewhat of an industry first. As the Environmental Protection Agency’s new lead renovation, repair and painting rule was set to go in effect, window and door manufacturers and dealers—along with others from the building products and construction industry—went to Washington, D.C., en masse to make their case.

Instead of its typical annual meeting, the Window & Door Manufacturers Association gathered in our nation’s capitol in March for the organization’s first legislative conference. That event featured numerous meetings between individual window and door manufacturers—as well as industry suppliers—with legislators and staff people at federal agencies. In April, the Northeast Window & Door Association actually held its second annual Washington “fly-in,” working with the National Association of Manufacturers.

While these groups had other issues beside lead paint on their plates, the newly-formed Window & Door Dealers Alliance also sent representatives to the White House this spring to focus specifically on the new EPA rules. A small band of contractors from New York, with organizational assistance from Gorell Windows & Doors, even gathered at the Capitol steps. In the end, the efforts came up short with regards to lead paint. There was no delay in implementation of the new law. More importantly, EPA opted out on the opt-out provision that would have enabled many homeowners to waive requirements for lead-safe work procedures.

This was a tough loss. We all share the concerns about lead dust and the potential impact on children, but the EPA regulations will add cost to window and door replacement and perhaps create their own risks to industry workers. Time will tell what the actual impact of these new rules may be.

Despite the loss, the industry should continue to fight the good fight and get its voice heard. One of the most pressing issues is the Home Star bill making its way through Congress. The legislation, which would provide rebates to homeowners for energy efficient upgrades to their houses, enjoys significant industry support. Many agree with the Obama Administration that such a program could bolster job growth in the short term and also pay long-term dividends in reducing our energy demands.

The current bills in the House and Senate, at least as of press time, both contain language that many in the industry will not like. Specifically, to be eligible for basic rebates under the bill, windows would have to meet the .30/.30 performance criteria used in last year’s stimulus package. Many in the industry prefer the more climate-specific criteria used in the Energy Star windows, doors and skylights programs, and it seems to me, getting Home Star to reference Energy Star would be the preferred way to go.

Looking further ahead, EPA will begin consideration of the next round of Energy Star window, door and skylight criteria. The next set of requirements will no doubt be more stringent. Many foresee the R-5 rating being pursued now by the Department of Energy in its volume purchase program as a likely minimum for Northern climates at least. Some in the industry question the cost effectiveness of such high-performance products. They worry about pricing Energy Star out of the market—particularly as Energy Star requirements become “virtual code” for some regions and applications.

Many foresee a certain level of gridlock in Washington in the coming years, but Home Star and even cap-and-trade have attracted some bi-partisan support. We cannot rule out legislative activity that could directly impact our products and/or our markets. The Obama Administration is likely to introduce a significant number of regulatory changes in the next few years also.

In other words, it’s not time to pack our bags and go home. It’s time to look back at the past few months and see if we learned anything. Maybe we should have started sooner.  Maybe we could have worked with other industry groups more effectively.  Maybe we should have reached out more to see if we could find non-industry allies.  No doubt, we could have done a better job, but we should not give up.  Our industry has a lot to offer this nation–greater energy independence, a smaller environmental footprint, jobs, and generally more comfortable, attractive homes and buildings.  We should be proud to part of the political process now and be ready to keep on fighting the good fight.