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The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency has denied recent requests by the Home Builders Association of Tennessee and NAHB for flexibility on the newly-enacted Lead: Renovation, Repair and Painting rule in order to speed the recovery of communities in western Tennessee devastated by floodwaters early last month.
Cited by Sen. Lamar Alexander (R-Tenn.) as the deadliest natural disaster in the U.S. since the election of President Obama, two-days of record rainfall damaged nearly 1.3 million homes or structures in Nashville and the region. Almost 700,000 of these were built before 1978, subjecting them to the lead paint rule.
As the extent of the damage became known, home builders advised the Tennessee Department of Environment and Conservation , the EPA’s Region IV office and EPA headquarters about how the new lead paint rule was hindering emergency recovery efforts; and they pushed for flexibility on an emergency basis in order to allow damaged homes to be restored quickly and safely.
Despite HBA and NAHB discussions with the EPA, the agency refused to offer any additional flexibility. In emergencies, renovations can be started by non-certified renovators, the agency noted, but certified renovators must conduct clean-up and cleaning verification and collect records for the job. In non-emergency situations, a certified renovator is required to do the work, according to the lead paint rule.
“I really appreciate NAHB’s efforts and am very disappointed by the EPA’s lack of understanding and responsiveness,” said Susan Ritter, the Tennessee HBA’s executive officer. “Their failure to offer flexibility means most remodeling in pre-1978 homes will be illegal and contractors will face fines for doing their job in helping people renovate and move back into their homes after the flood.”
Senators Seek to Delay EPA Lead-Rule Enforcement During Recovery
In a bipartisan effort, Sen. Susan Collins (R-Maine), Sen. Alexander and others are seeking an amendment to the supplemental appropriations bill that would restrict funding for EPA’s enforcement on remodeling firms for violations of the lead rule.
Alexander also has sent a letter to the EPA requesting that the agency delay enforcement action and increase certified training in Tennessee to speed the flood recovery.
Lead Paint Rule Problems That Would Hinder Recovery
According to the Tennessee HBA and NAHB, the floodwaters engulfed western Tennessee before enough remodelers and contractors could be trained and certified to help with the recovery efforts, as required by the lead paint rule.
According to the HBA and NAHB:
- The shortage of training classes and certified renovators will severely hamper consumers’ ability to hire a remodeler to repair any pre-1978 housing. Currently, about 119 certified renovator training classes have been held in Tennessee with about 2,700 certified renovators now working there. Tennessee has about 18,500 licensed remodeling contractors yet only one EPA-approved training provider for the lead rule.
- A limited number of contractors and remodelers — only 284 EPA-certified firms as of May 11 — can work in the flood-damaged homes built before 1978.
- The rule will be expanded on July 6 when the “opt-out provision” — which currently allows home owners with no children under age six or pregnant women in a residence to waive the rule’s requirements — is scheduled to be removed from the rule.
- Consumer awareness may be the biggest issue because home owners living in flood-damaged residences are urgently engaged in repairing homes and recovery. Consumers do not know about this rule and are not prepared for the added cost and time the requirements bring to a remodeling job.
Emergency Flexibility Suggestions Denied by the EPA
The NAHB and the Tennessee HBA offered several suggestions to the EPA that would create more flexibility to the lead paint rule, encourage safer remodeling and allow for quick renovations during flood recovery.
These suggestions, denied by the EPA, include:
- Temporarily suspending the lead rule in flood-ravaged areas to permit emergency remodeling. Residents face dangers from mold and unstable structures the longer the homes are not safely renovated by a professional.
- Replacing the opt-out provision to lower the burden on the rule for home owners with no children and pregnant women present. The rule was originally created to protect children from lead exposure so expanding the rule has only created more costly burden.
- Giving remodelers a six-month extension so they can get to work. This would give remodelers extra time to complete their certified renovator training and submit their firm certification forms. The extension would also enable remodelers to continue working on homes and close out any records or cleaning on the job.
NAHB and the Tennessee HBA continue to urge the EPA to review its position on emergency renovations under the lead rule and coordinate with the Federal Emergency Management Agency on recovery efforts.