WDMA Gathers to Push for Tax Credits, LRRP Reform

March 7, 2012

Washington, D.C.–The Window & Door Manufacturers Association is gathering here this week for its annual meeting and spring legislative conference. Members were updated yesterday on Congressional efforts to restore energy efficiency tax credits and curtail some of the Environmental Protection Agency's lead paint regulations before heading to Capitol Hill to meet their local representatives and staff.

 WDMA's Jeff Inks, left, and Michael O'Brien briefed members on the association's positions prior to their Hill visits. 

A bill to bring back a 25c tax credit of up to $1,000 for energy efficient home improvements has been prepared by Sen. Ron Wyden (D-Ore.) in the Senate, reported Michael O'Brien, WDMA president. A similar package might also be included in "tax extenders" legislation, a package of various tax credits and revisions that might make its way through Congress in a month or so. 

In urging their representatives to support such a bill, O'Brien told WDMA members to emphasize the success of the 2009-2010 credits in saving and creating jobs.  "Unlike other elements of the stimulus package, it worked," he said. The primary motivator for the credits at the time was energy efficiency, "but the jobs element resonates more on the Hill now," he added.

Another positive aspect of the bill to note, O'Brien continued, is that two-thirds of those claiming the tax credit were households with incomes of less than $100,000. This was a popular, effective tax credit for middle income people, he said.

WDMA's other priority is support of new legislation introduced by Sen. James Inhofe (R-Okla.) that would restore the "opt-out" provision to the EPA's Lead Repair, Renovation and Painting rule, as well as address a number of other problems with the law. In asking for Congressional support for the changes, members should emphasize the importance of providing protection to young children and pregnant women, advised Jeff Inks, WDMA's VP of code and regulatory affairs. "The bill in no way undoes anything," he said. "It takes the rule back to what was published in 2008."

The "opt-out" clause was dropped, he explained, because of a court settlement EPA reached with environmental groups. It virtually doubled the number of homes covered under the LRRP rule without any demonstration that it would help the target population.

 The EPA's Don Lott, standing, discussed the agency's LRRP  enforcement activities. NAHB's Matt Watkins provided additional updates on the lead paint rules.

Inks also suggested that WDMA members let their representatives know that the impact of the lead paint law has proved to be just as onerous as anticipated. In addition to unnecessary costs paid by owners of homes where no pregnant women or children under six are residing, the lack of a test kit meeting EPA's own standard for accuracy is also forcing companies to follow expensive procedures even when there may be no need to do so. The current test kits have a 30 percent false positive test rate--finding unsafe levels where they really do not exist, he said.

EPA Update
Another session providing a more detailed update on the EPA's lead paint activities featured Donald J. Lott of EPA's Office of Civil Enforcement. The agency has been active enforcing the LRRP rule, he reported, having conducted more than 1,000 lead-paint related inspections to date.

EPA has issued more than 40 notices of noncompliance. Those serve more as a warning, and have been issued in cases involving relatively mild infractions. In addition, Lott said, EPA is currently in the midst of "pre-settlement negotiations" with some 30-plus companies. Only one case has been settled related to the LRRP rule, but two more are close. "A lot of other cases are in the pipeline," he added.

Responding to complaints that EPA has focused on paperwork at lead-certified contractors than at violations by firms trying to work outside the law, Lott emphasized that the agency is not using its certified contractor list as a starting point for investigations. He noted, however, that under the law EPA needs a homeowner's permission to inspect a renovation project that's underway. "We've been working our way through that issue," he said, and EPA expects to step up efforts in the area of onsite inspections. He noted that EPA relies on complaints from competitors as a major source to find non-certified contractors and urged industry to continue to support its efforts to enforce the rules.

Matt Watkins of the National Association of Home Builders also spoke, updating attendees on litigation filed by his organization, as well as several others, against the EPA. The suit, like Sen. Inhofe's bill, seeks restoration of the opt-out provision and a number of other changes in the LRRP rule. Oral arguments were heard in court last fall, but the court has not issued a decision.  The "tone" of the court in asking questions was not very encouraging, he added.

A number of changes were made to the LRRP rule fall, Watkins also reported, including the introduction of a new procedure for collecting paint chips for testing, as well as reporting requirements for those tests. EPA added requirements for hands-on training for worker re-certification, and also issued an updated version of its Renovate Right brochure that must be distributed to all homeowners prior to the beginning of a renovation project.  One positive development, he said, was the EPA decision not to add requirements for clearance testing at the end of a job.

Looking to what's ahead, Watkins noted that the National Center for Healthy Housing has submitted a petition to the EPA that would establish even stricter lead hazard standards, with a smaller presence of lead triggering lead-safe work procedures. Such a change could also translate into clearance testing requirements, he suggested.

NAHB has also petitioned the EPA, asking it to delay the effective date of the LRRP rule until an adequate lead test kit has been developed, Watkin said. There's been no response to that petition, and as far as NAHB can tell, EPA has stopped the process of trying to develop a new, more effective kit.

 Sen. John Hoeven (R-N.D.), left, and Rep. Greg Walden (R-Ore.) both emphasized the importance of controlling federal debt and increasing North American energy production.

Congressional Update
The legislative conference, which was organized jointly between WDMA and the National Lumber & Building Materials Dealers Association, welcomed two members of Congress to update attendees on activities on Capitol Hill.  Both Rep. Greg Walden (R-Ore.) and Sen. John Hoeven (R-N.D.) stressed the need to bring the federal budget under control and to develop energy resources within North America.

"We need to get back to basics," said Hoeven, who talked about lessons he learned in his previous position as Governor of North Dakota. Rather than incentives for certain types of business, he noted, "we worked to set up a legislative, tax and regulatory environment to support in-state entrepreneurs and outside companies." 

"We have a government that spends too much, borrows too much and taxes too much," said Warden. " I think we should work together and solve the nation's problems once and for all."  The changes can be made while keeping the safety net in place, he asserted. "But the window is closing," he added, with a nod to the audience. "If changes are not made soon, they will become much more painful."

Hoeven sees an opportunity for an agreement later this year, following the elections. Pointing to the expiration of the Bush tax cuts, the payroll tax cuts, and triggers that would produce significant cuts in defense spending, he predicted that Democrats and Republicans may be able to come together.

Talking about the regulatory burden on business, Warden suggested that a change of attitude is needed at EPA. "I think we'd be much better off if their philosophy was to reach out and help companies, rather than punish," he said. He pointed to the Occupational Safety and Health Administration as an example. It has moved from a "gotcha" approach to emphasizing best practices and working to educate companies how to get there.