Alexander Seeks Delay of EPA Lead Paint Rule So Tennesseans Can Repair Flood-Damaged Homes

Says new rule will make home repairs slower and more expensive for thousands after “worst natural disaster since President Obama took office”

Posted on May 25, 2010

WASHINGTON – U.S. Senator Lamar Alexander (R-Tenn.) asked the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) today to delay implementing a new “lead paint rule” that he said could “affect repair work on up to 750,000 Tennessee buildings, make repairs more expensive and impose on painters and other contractors fines of up to $37,500 a day.”

Alexander also will join Sen. Susan Collins (R-ME) in introducing an amendment to the Supplemental Appropriations bill that would allow any contractor who enrolls in a lead-paint certification class by Sept. 30, 2010, to be considered in compliance with the EPA lead paint rule. He said that the EPA has only three trainers assigned full-time to Tennessee to offer such classes, “even though there are 50,000 contractors—13,000 in Nashville alone—who may need to be certified before they can work on most homes built before 1978.”  

In a letter to EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson, Alexander said implementing the “lead-paint” rule could affect more than 750,000 buildings in Tennessee and 168,000 housing units in Davidson County alone. The rule requires that all contractors that disturb six square feet of lead paint surface in homes, child-care facilities, and schools built before 1978 be certified by the EPA and follow lead-safe work practices.

“Ten days before the Tennessee flood, the worst natural disaster in the U.S. since President Obama took office, a new EPA rule went into effect that will make it harder and more expensive for Tennesseans to repair their flood-damaged homes and get back on their feet,” Alexander said.
“For example, Nashville alone has $2 billion in flood damage and 11,000 buildings in need of major repair.”

The EPA lead-paint rule requires not only that the contractor or firm be certified, but that the employees who perform the work be certified as well, adding to the shortage of available contractors. Additionally, the EPA can fine uncertified contractors who violate the lead-paint rule up to $37,500 per violation, per day, the threat of which will create significant delays in the repair process for thousands of Tennesseans who are limited to a small number of lead-paint-certified contractors, Alexander said.  

In his letter to Administrator Jackson, Sen. Alexander made the following three requests:

--First, delay  the lead-paint rule’s implementation for 120 days (until September 30, 2010), while the EPA creates a reasonable plan for its implementation in flood-damaged Tennessee, and that it establish a process by which any contractor that enrolls in a lead-paint certification class be considered in compliance with the lead-paint rule;

--Second, reinstate the homeowner “opt-out” provision that would allow homeowners to hire uncertified contractors to repair their homes, as long as they verify that there are no children under six or pregnant women in the home, and comply with current lead paint disclosure rules when the homeowner sells the home;

--Third, increase the availability of training sessions in Tennessee, where only three trainers are in place, only 2,700 contractors have been trained and only 370 firms certified.

The full text of Sen. Alexander’s letter to EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson follows:

Dear Administrator Jackson:
I am writing to request that you delay enforcing the issuance of fines under the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) Lead Renovation, Repair, and Paint (LRRP) Rule if contractors apply by September 30, 2010 to participate in a training class, reinstate the homeowner “opt-out” provision included in the original rule, and increase the availability of training sessions in areas of critical need nationwide, especially Tennessee.  There are thousands of homes in Tennessee that were underwater in the worst natural disaster since President Obama took office.  One of the biggest obstacles we have in getting people back in their homes is this EPA rule which could impose a $37,500 per day fine.  
The new EPA Lead Rule requires contractors performing renovation, repair and painting projects that disturb lead-based paint be certified and follow detailed work practices to avoid possible negative health effects for any occupants of the building.  This means that many painters, plumbers, carpenters, electricians, HVAC installers - virtually anyone who works on a home built before 1978 - could need to be certified.  While I applaud the goal of this Rule and agree with its intent, the lack of available training sessions and certified trainers has brought many home repairs to a standstill all across America.  More importantly in states like Tennessee, which have experienced disastrous flooding, there are not enough certified contractors to perform the work necessary to get people back into their own homes.  Many contractors, fearing the possibility of fines of up to $37,500 per violation per day of non compliance are simply choosing to forgo the opportunity to work on houses with lead paint – effectively anything built before 1978.  
Forty-five counties in Tennessee have been declared disaster areas by the President and the Nashville area alone has over $2 billion in flood damage.  There are over 11,000 structures in need of major repair in Davidson County alone. I appreciate the work you have done with the State of Tennessee in clarifying the emergency provisions under the LRRP Rule.  However, with only 3 trainers conducting classes in Tennessee, only 119 total classes offered statewide, and many of the state’s 50,000 plus carpenters, construction laborers, electricians, painters, and plumbers unaware they were required to take these classes, it is clear that Tennessee's needs have not yet been met.  
On behalf of the people of Tennessee who have been affected by the extraordinary flooding and millions of American homeowners, I thank you for your efforts to address this problem and look forward to moving ahead with a solution that serves both the environmental and health benefits sought under the EPA Rule and the needs of the people of flood ravaged Tennessee.