Speeches & Floor Statements

Floor Remarks of U.S. Senator Lamar Alexander (R-Tenn.) -- “EPA is “Tone-Deaf to Reality” on Lead Paint Rule During Tennessee Flood Cleanup”

Posted on May 26, 2010

 Mr. President, I was not on the floor when the Senator from Maine made her remarks about the EPA's lead paint rule, but she and I have discussed it numerous times, and I wanted to congratulate her for her leadership and persistence on seeing the impracticality of what the Environmental Protection Agency is trying to do.  

She discussed this in the Appropriations Committee, she has discussed this with Senator Feinstein, the Chairman of the Interior Appropriations Subcommittee, and with me -- I am the ranking member on the Appropriations Subcommittee on Interior -- and as more of us paid attention to what Senator Collins was saying, we found a significant problem in our own States.

Of course, the lead paint rule is a good idea. The idea is that for structures that were built before 1978 -- they mostly have lead paint -- any work done by a repairman or contractor or painter that disturbs 6 square feet of lead paint must be done by someone who knows how to do it safely.  

This is especially important to children under 6 and to pregnant women. So we want to do that.

But in the State of Tennessee, it is a special problem to impose and enforce this new rule requiring contractors to be certified where we have just had severe flooding in our State that affects 52 counties, from Nashville to Memphis. This is the single largest natural disaster since President Obama took office. 

People who hear me say that, say: Well, Senator Alexander, haven't you heard about the gulf oilspill? Yes, I have heard about that, but that wasn't a natural disaster. The biggest natural disaster we have had since President Obama took office is the flood in Tennessee, affecting 52 counties. 

One of the reasons you haven't heard as much about it is because a lot of other things have been going on in the world, including the gulf oilspill, but another reason you have isn't because Tennesseans are busy cleaning up and helping each other and not complaining and looting, so it doesn't make a lot of news. But the mayor of Nashville says there is $2 billion of damage just in that city alone. There was water 10 feet high in the huge Opryland Hotel, where 1,500 people had to be rescued and taken to a high school gym. There was 2 feet of water on the Opryland stage.

There are 11,000 structures in Nashville alone which have to be repaired as a result of the flood. So I think you can see where I am going, Mr. President. This isn't just a problem in certifying these EPA inspectors in ordinary times. We have 11,000 structures in Nashville, 900 in Millington, 300 in Dyersburg -- maybe it is the reverse, but those are 2 other small towns and counties. People are going into their basements, they are taking down drywall, they are repairing their air-conditioning, they are repainting, they are cleaning up and getting back on their feet. This is a special problem because we only have 3 EPA trainers to certify up to 50,000 contractors who might have to be working on these homes.  

In fact, we have over three-quarters of a million structures in Tennessee -- that is, 750,000 -- which are homes or childcare centers or schools or other buildings that were built before 1978 that would be covered by this rule. So having a good rule is one thing; having a thoroughly impractical application and implementation period is another. And then to do it in the middle of a flood which is the largest natural disaster since President Obama took office is tone-deaf to reality.  

So I have asked the EPA to delay the implementation and enforcement of its rule until September if a contractor registers for a training class. I am a cosponsor of Senator Collins' amendment, and I think it is very important that the Environmental Protection Agency hear what Senators from all around the country are saying, especially in our State of Tennessee where we have thousands of repairmen, painters, and workmen who need to go to work on tens of thousands of homes, and we don't want to have a risk where they may have to pay a fine of $37,500 for each violation. 

There are a lot of them who don't make $37,500 in a year. We are not talking about Wall Street financiers here; we are talking about workmen, repairmen, and painters who are helping people dig out after a huge natural disaster. 

So Senator Collins has not only done the State of Maine a service by her persistence, intelligence, and leadership on this issue, but she has done a service for every citizen in the State of Tennessee in 52 counties who have been damaged by the severe flooding of the year 2010. So I thank her for her leadership and say to her that I am proud to be a cosponsor of her amendment, and I pledge to her -- insofar as I am able as the ranking member of the Appropriations Interior Subcommittee -- to work with other Senators on both sides of the aisle to try to get some commonsense implementation plan for this lead paint rule -- a good rule, a bad plan. 

Thousands of people are going to find that they can't repair their homes or that if they do, it will cost them thousands of dollars more because the repairmen they need to work on their homes can't get certified by the EPA because there are only three trainers in the whole State of Tennessee to do the job. 

I thank the Presiding Officer, and I yield the floor.