Sen. Joni Ernst, R-Iowa, speaks at the NLBMDA-WDMA Legislative Conference in Washington on March 20, 2018
Craig Webb Sen. Joni Ernst, R-Iowa, speaks at the NLBMDA-WDMA Legislative Conference

Softwood lumber, product liability, lead paint, and domestic as well as foreign workers topped the list of concerns that building material dealers from across the country brought to Capitol Hill today as part of their legislative conference.

The visits were organized by the National Lumber & Building Material Dealers Association (NLBMDA) and regional LBM groups, and was co-located with a meeting of the Window and Door Manufacturers Association. What dealers push during their visits to the Senate and House varies annually, and this year’s “asks” mix old and new concerns.

Renewal of the Softwood Lumber Agreement with Canada has taken on urgency in the months since the U.S. in late 2017 imposed tariffs on Canadian timber companies averaging 21%. Those tariffs, combined with ever-rising demand and weather issues, have since March 2017 pushed lumber prices up 24% for framing lumber and structural panel prices up 32%, NLBMDA notes.

“NLBMDA supports reaching an agreement on the longstanding U.S.-Canada softwood lumber dispute that brings stability and predictability to the pricing and availability of softwood lumber without the imposition of duties,” the association’s issue brief declares. It asks members of Congress to write to Trump administration officials requesting “consideration of the interests of all domestic lumber stakeholders as negotiations with Canada continue on a new softwood lumber agreement.”

The Republican Party’s control of both Congress and the White House is seen as favorable for dealers’ second request: the Innocent Sellers Fairness Act. This proposed act would limit civil actions brought against persons “whose only role with regard to a product in the stream of commerce is as a lawful seller of the product,” according to H.R. 1118, the bill promoting the act. NLBMDA is looking for a senator to introduce the bill in that chamber.

The Environmental Protection Agency’s Lead: Renovation, Repair and Painting (RRP) rule has good intentions and bad results, Sen. Joni Ernst, R-Iowa, told the group at its breakfast meeting. “Its implementation was fraught with problems that created unintentional consequences,” Ernst said. “What sounds great may have secondary and tertiary effects.” She noted that EPA’s rule is going through a mandated period of self-examination, with a report expected next month. “I hope this rule will be revised in a manner that doesn’t unnecessarily burden our window and door manufacturers and remodelers,” Ernst said.

Exposure to lead paint has been found to pose particularly health dangers to children, the elderly, and pregnant women. Lead paint was banned in 1978 for use in homes, and in homes built before then health risks have arisen when renovation work generates lead dust. Renovators who find lead paint is present—or who aren’t sure—must use lead-safe practices when they work on the home. They must get training and be certified to work in such situations.

NLBMDA members asked members of Congress to suspend enforcement of RRP in cases where there aren’t young children and pregnant women until an EPA-compliant test kit is commercially available. At the same time, EPA should focus on non-certified firms and individuals, as well as give de minimis exemptions for first-time paperwork violations by certified firms, the association believes.

The request for workforce development covers two fronts. The U.S. should support career and technical education initiatives, dealers said, as well as a guest worker program as part of immigration reform.