Jackson Sun: Editorial: Contractors need relief from new EPA rule

Posted on May 28, 2010

We agree with Sens. Lamar Alexander, Bob Corker and a number of others about easing a new Environment Protection Agency rule for contractors who deal with lead paint in buildings. There is no way workmen dealing with Tennessee flooding recovery can comply with the rule. A reasonable waiver should be granted by Congress.

An EPA rule that went into effect April 22 requires contractors who perform work in homes and other buildings built before 1978 be trained and certified on how to properly handle lead paint during construction and repair projects. This is an important safety issue for construction workers and for others, especially children and pregnant women, who might be exposed to lead paint dust during building and repair work. Contractors who are not certified can be fined up to $37,500 per construction day.

But Tennessee has only three EPA-qualified trainers who can certify contractors. The state has about 50,000 contractors. Fifty-two Tennessee counties have been declared federal disaster areas because of recent flood damage. There are thousands of buildings needing repair, more than 11,000 in Nashville alone. Many of these buildings will have been built before 1978. It would be impossible to find enough lead-paint certified contractors to do the repair work in a timely fashion.

The senators have attached an amendment to the Fiscal Year 2010 Emergency Supplemental Appropriations bill to fix this problem. It would bar the EPA from levying fines against contractors who sign up for training by Sept. 30. The amendment should be passed.

Frankly, it is astonishing that such a rule would be put into place without a reasonable time for those affected to comply. The nation's contractors, many of who run small businesses, can't stop working until the EPA catches up with implementation of its new training and certification procedures. The current implementation schedule is onerous, counterproductive and an unreasonable burden on small businesses.

This is especially true in Tennessee where tens of thousands of people and businesses are struggling to recover from the recent floods. Without the special exemption, contractors would be left vulnerable to EPA fines and to lawsuits by opportunists seeking to make a buck from someone else's misfortune. With the tremendous demand for construction workers to repair flood damage, contractors would be risking everything if they went to work without congressional protection from the unreasonable implementation demands of this new EPA rule.