Ten senators have urged the federal Office of Management and Budget (OMB) to help make certain that it will be possible for Americans to comply with a soon-to-be-enacted Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) rule designed to control the spread of dust from lead paint when old homes are renovated. But the senators' list of suggestions only included at the end what LBM dealers would like to see done first: delay the rule's April 22 enforcement date.

The March 25 letter officially asks the OMB "to take whatever actions necessary in the next 26 days to ensure that when this rule goes into effect, there are enough certified renovators available to meet the compliance goals of the rule."

At issue is the EPA's Lead: Renovation, Repair and Painting (LRRP) rule. It requires contractors performing renovation, repair and painting projects that disturb lead-based paint in homes, child care facilities, and schools built before 1978 to be certified and follow specific work practices to prevent lead contamination. (See EPA fact sheet.) Ignoring the new rules could lead to fines of tens of thousands of dollars per day.

Getting enough renovators certified by April 22 is virtually impossible to achieve, the 10 senators implied. The letter's authors include Sen. James Inhofe, R-Okla. and ranking member of the Senate Environment and Public Works committee, plus the other six Republicans on the panel; Sen. Chuck Grassley, R-Iowa; and just one Democrat: Ron Wyden of Oregon. Notably, none of the Democrats on the Environment and Public Works Committee signed the letter, though Sen. Amy Klobuchar, D-Minn., did suggest a delay when she wrote to the EPA on March 17 (story).

"EPA, in its economic analysis of the rule, estimated that it would need to certify 236,000 renovators between April 2009 and April 2010, with another 94,000 renovators between April 2010 and April 2012," the 10 senators wrote. "According to EPA they have certified only 50,000 renovators, well below EPA's estimated 236,000 needed to meet the requirements of the rule. The National Center for Healthy Housing estimated that it is taking EPA nearly eight weeks to certify trainers, and currently has only 184 certified training providers. In order to meet the compliance goals of the rule, many more training providers and training sessions are needed. Additionally there are several states--Louisiana, South Dakota, Wyoming, West Virginia--and the District of Columbia, which currently have no approved trainers."

The senators said OMB's possible responses "could include ensuring EPA has enough resources devoted to compliance assistance, speeding up the turnaround time for approving trainers, expediting public awareness and media campaigns and, if necessary, delaying the rule's implementation or phasing in the rule in areas where there are adequate certified renovators."

Delegations from the National Lumber & Building Material Dealers Association (NLBMDA) made a delay one of their top priorities when they visited Capitol Hill on March 18 and 19 during their annual Legislative Conference. They argued in part that the rule could cripple the remodeling industry precisely at the time when the Obama administration is promoting energy retrofit programs as a way to cut homeowners' bills and provide jobs for installation crews.

A news release from the Environment and Public Works Committee on the 10 senators' letter noted that North Dakota's Senate delegation has written to the EPA, as have Inhofe and Vitter.

Dealers' hopes for a delay are complicated by the EPA's firm belief that dust from lead paint is a big environmental problem. A report Tuesday by New Hampshire Public Radio quotes James Bryson, the EPA official in New England charged with implementing the new lead rule, as saying: "If you're not doing this, you're not protecting your work area, you're releasing dust and debris in the work area, then you could have a child that could be lead poisoned. And that's something we don't want. No cost is too high for that."