Contractors Rally Against EPA Lead Rules at Capitol

April 16, 2010
Rep. Tim Bishop, D-N.Y., told attendees he would continue his fight to delay the new EPA rule.

Washington, D.C.—New York contractors and other industry representatives gathered at the U.S. Capitol yesterday to protest the Environmental Protection Agency lead paint laws set to go in effect April 22. “I am determined to everything I can to delay this law," said Congressman Tim Bishop, D-N.Y., at the event, offering some hope by saying, "I think we have a real shot.”

People can disagree about the value of various provisions in the law, Bishop told the group,  organized by the New York/Long Island chapter of the National Associaton of the Remodeling Industry. He emphasized, however, that EPA’s lack of preparation, problems with lead test methods, and a shortage certified contractors, made the law “punitive,” rather than constructive. “The government has an obligation to protect the public, but it also has an obligation to be practical,” he said.

“This event already is a success,” said Charles Dorsey, a regional sales representative for Gorell Windows & Doors. One of the prime organizers of the protest, he pointed to the success industry representatives were having, getting the word out to their representatives.

Representing WDDA, Jim Lett focused his remarks on the need to preserve the "opt-out" provision in the law.

That view was echoed by Mike Rempel, vice president of administration at Gorell. The day proceeding the protest, he reported, there were numerous meetings with Congressional representatives and staffers, thanks to efforts organized by the Northeast Window & Door Association and the National Association of Manufacturers. Together, the group met with Sen. Arlen Specter, D-N.Y., who admitted that he did not know about the new EPA lead paint rules. “We keep hearing ‘I was not aware of that,’” Rempel said at the rally. “We’ve got to change that, and we’ve got to do it quickly.” He concluded by urging everyone to reach out to their own representatives and ask others to do the same.

The EPA lead paint law requires contractors working in pre-1978 homes to EPA trained and certified on lead-safe work procedures to contain lead dust. “I have no problem with the law as written,” said Jim Lett, of A.B.E. Doors & Windows in Allentown, Pa., representing the Window & Door Dealers Alliance. “I don’t have any concerns following the lead safe provisions in a house with a child under six or a pregnant woman.” He stressed, however, the importance of preserving a provision of the law that allows homeowners to “opt-out” on lead safe procedures—and the added costs—if no child under six or pregnant woman lives in the home. EPA said last fall it was considering dropping that provision, and has not issued a final decision yet on it.

The opt-out provision, Lett asserted, needs to be preserved because lead-safe procedures create undue burdens that are unnecessary when lead paint dust does not present a significant risk.  First, he noted, the safety of remodeling employees needs to be considered. The use of plastic on most surfaces and the hazmat suits, which limit mobility and vision, increase the chance for accidents and endanger workers unnecessarily if young children and/or pregnant women are not present in a home.

Noting that more than 90 percent of his customers are over 40 years old, Lett said the opt-out rule should be preserved because those not at risk should not have to bear the same cost burden. Finally, Lett pointed to the extra waste generated by the lead-safe practices, again stating that the added cost is too high given the limited benefit.

Veka's Kevin Seiling detailed the added costs of replacing windows and doors using the lead-safe procedures outlined in the new rules.

Kevin Seiling, director of engineering at Veka Inc., spoke on behalf of his own company, as well as the American Architectural Manufacturers Association. He urged the EPA and Obama Administration to the delay the rules, as well as preserve the opt-out provisions. Additionally, he asked that an exception be added for windows and doors to rule that says lead-safe practices need to be followed if the job disturbs more than 6 square feet of a home or building.

Pointing out that removal of a window creates significantly less dust than cutting a 6 square foot hole in a wall, Seiling said EPA should establish a separate a perimeter measurement requirement for window or door replacement.  The lead-paint law needs to be re-examined for numerous reasons, he continued, one being that EPA has significantly underestimated the cost of compliance averaging about $35 per project.

He pointed to the materials themselves, but also cited the reduced productivity to be expected from workers now wearing a hazmat suit and working in an enclosed plastic bubble. “You’re going to have to pay that worker a lot more,” he noted. Common industry estimates are that the lead-safe criteria will add 20 to 30 percent to the cost of a job. “People are going to buy flat screen TVs and let their homes deteriorate,” he said. “Mayors should write to EPA and ask them to repeal the law because whole cities are going to deteriorate.” 

New windows and doors save energy.  "That's a good thing, something I thought the EPA supported," Seiling noted. The added costs are going to discourage that homeowners from doing that and create job losses, he continued, concluding that Earth Day, when the law goes into effect, should be renamed "EPA Means Fewer Jobs Day."