Commercial Appeal: Lamar Alexander asks EPA to put off lead-paint rule

Posted on May 26, 2010

Sen. Lamar Alexander, R-Tenn., is asking the EPA to put off enforcement of a rule requiring contractors to be certified before disturbing lead paint in older structures because it could delay and add to the cost of repairs to recently flooded homes.

In a conference call with Tennessee reporters, Alexander said a rule that took effect in April requires certification for contractors making major repairs or renovations to the 750,000 Tennessee structures built before 1978.

In addition to the request that the rule be delayed, Alexander is asking the Environmental Protection Agency to increase the availability of training sessions for contractors. Right now, the EPA has only three full-time trainers for the required eight-hour class, and thousands of contractors have not yet enrolled in them.

He also asked EPA administrator Lisa Jackson to permit homeowners to opt out of having a certified contractor if there are no children under age 6 or pregnant women living in a structure.

Under the rule, a contractor could be liable for a $37,500 fine for working on a house with lead-based paint, Alexander noted.

Alexander said the idea behind the law is sound and that the removal of lead-based paint is a good idea, but that EPA has a "poorly thought out" implementation plan and has done "a lousy job" of informing Tennessee contractors of the requirement. So far, only 2,700 contractors in Tennessee have been trained and only 370 companies certified, Alexander said.

The Commercial Appeal wrote about the new rule on April 15, a week before it went into effect, and just before the most severe flooding in years prompted a presidential disaster declaration for 52 Tennessee counties.

Along with Sen. Susan Collins, R-Maine, Alexander plans to introduce an amendment to an appropriations bill that would allow contractors signed up for the EPA certification classes before Sept. 30 to be considered in compliance with the law and not subject to its fines.