WDDA Focuses on "Opt-Out" in Meeting with Government Officials

March 19, 2010
Government

Window & Door Dealers Alliance representatives met with officials from the White House Office of Management & Budget and Environmental Protection Agency on Wednesday to make the case for preserving the “opt-out” provisions in the Environmental Protection Agency’s pending Lead: Renovation, Repair and Painting Rule. The meeting was “encouraging,” according to David Walker, WDDA vice president, concluding with government officials asking for more detailed estimates on the added costs of compliance.

WDDA members, left to right, David Steele, Jana Goodrich and Jim Lett, along with David Walker in front of the White House after meeting with OMB and EPA officials.

When first issued, the EPA RRP rules focused on the need for lead-safe work practices in remodeling projects in pre-1978 homes where children under six years old and pregnant women resided. Owners of homes with no children or pregnant women could “opt out” on the EPA requirements. Last year, EPA issued a potential rule change that would expand LRRP requirements to all pre-1978 homes. It has not yet announced whether the new lead rules will include the opt-out provisions or not at this point.

The opt-out provision was the primary topic of discussion because WDDA met with staff of OMB’s Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs, which has oversight authority related to the economic impact of new federal regulations, Walker explains. “They were more focused on the costs of implementing the new rules, and they were receptive to our message,” he reports. “The fact that our representatives are already certified and ready to comply with the new EPA rules enabled us to make a strong argument about their potential impact. We plan to provide the numbers they are looking for early next week.”

“We gave them real life experiences and challenges we are discovering when implementing lead safe practices and how it going to increase our costs substantially, not the $35 [EPA officials] claim," reports Jim Lett, owner of A.B.E. Doors & Windows in Allentown, Pa., one of WDDA’s representatives. "When asked how they came up with the $35 figure, they stated that it is a ‘desk figure.’ I told them that I am estimating it will cost a minimum of $120 to $200 on any given job or $60 to $90 per window for a multi-window job.”

Lett offered details on his company’s attempts to do a few jobs based on what his employees had learned in the EPA training. “The first job was a tear out of a front entry door system. It sounds simple enough,” he recalls. “We planned to build a simple zip wall to contain the dust. When the carpenters arrived at the jobsite they found out that there were cathedral ceilings. Suddenly we realized it was not going to be an easy task.” Lett also told them about a typical job that normally would have taken one carpenter about six hours, explaining that following the lead-safe work practices, it was completed by two men in six hours.”

"They were there to listen and consequently they don’t reveal much," states David Steele of the Window Gallery in Augusta, Ga., speaking of the government officials in attendance.  "I do feel that we made many good points and that it was helpful for them to hear from dealers instead of staff people in associations or employees of manufacturing companies." 

The Case for Delay
Despite the government officials' focus on the opt-out provisions, Steele notes that the case for delaying implementation of the EPA rules was also presented. "We explained that the three WDDA members who were there were all certified, all in favor of protecting everyone—children, pregnant women and our employees for lead poisoning. In fact, between the three companies we had 47 employees certified. We are ready," he states, "but we insisted that they understand that we are going to face a potential catastrophe on April 22, 2010."

The problem is that on April 22, 98 percent of the work force will be unable to work legally in a huge percentage of homes, Steele explains. The other option is that the 98 percent will continue working and then they will face ruinous fines and risk incarceration. "We stressed that we believed that the costs to comply were so high and onerous that more, not less, harm will be done to the environment," he continues. "In our view, many jobs won’t be done or the homeowners, who are completely unregulated or non-certified contractors who will not follow LSWP will get the work due to their much lower costs."

"I do not believe the OMB will be able to influence the delay of the April 22 implementation date, but we made what I think was a compelling case for that anyway, because they offered to hear our arguments for that if we chose to share them," states Jana Goodrich, president of Seaway Manufacturing Co. in Erie, Pa., the third WDDA representative.  "The members of the EPA in attendance, however, may be able to have some influence on the rule itself, so I remain at least somewhat optimistic there."

“They did take notes as each of us spoke and they seemed to genuinely listen to our concerns,” states Lett. “We explained how our businesses have been adversely affected by the recession, how many of our customers are on fixed income and will be hurt by removal of the opt out.” He cautions that the government officials did not provide the slightest hint as to whether they will delay implementation of RRP rules or if the opt-out provision will be kept, “but the fact that they listened is reason for hope.”

"I believe we presented compelling arguments that were well received. As to whether or not the opt out will be allowed to remain, I am not sure," Goodrich reports. "There are strong pressures on both sides, but a compromise might be to leave it in, but outlaw the 'prohibited practices' that create the most dust or toxic fumes, such as burning, use of high heat to remove paint, or the use of high pressure or high friction devices, such as belt sanders and the like."

Following the meeting, Goodrich believes it may be easier to preserve the opt-out, at least with conditions and/or for a set period of time, than to delay implementation of the RRP rule.  "They said they want to make a decision quickly, so that was good news," she concludes. "Getting an answer prior to April 21 would at least let us know definitively how to prepare."