Monday, June 14, 2010

Unleaded EPA Overkill

When you hear conservatives clucking about the evils of big government, do your eyes glaze over?

“Big government, small government; who cares?” you may be tempted to complain, convinced the tug of war over expanding or contracting Washington’s role in our lives lacks any application to your daily life.

Which, of course, has been the genius of big-government advocates. They've spent decades incrementally upping the scope of government involvement and the depth with which it reaches into daily life for all Americans. Many bureaucrats and politicians want you to ignore the debate over big government. They want you to be the frog in the tepid pot of water, blithely acclimating as the water’s temperature quietly increases. Until... you’re boiled alive.

Indeed, it’s not until you run into something like the EPA’s Toxic Substances Control Act Docket ID #EPA-HQ-OPPT-2005-0049 that ordinary Americans get slapped in the face with the absurdity of government control over the mundane aspects of everyday existence. Or, Big Government.

One of the Biggest Rules You've Never Heard Of

Never heard of the EPA’s Docket EPA-HQ-OPPT-2005-0049? Funny… because it’s been working its way through the halls of Congress, the White House, three administrations, and the EPA for nearly twenty years. Where have you been?

A rhetorical question, of course. You’ve probably been doing things like, oh, remodeling an old house; something many Americans do, considering the vast supply of aging housing stock in our country.

House remodeling, however, sits directly in the cross-hairs of EPA-HQ-OPPT-2005-0049, which basically says you will now need to cough up a ton of money for lead-based paint testing, removal, and disposal if you or anybody you hire does any remodeling to a house built prior to 1978.

That’s right: if your home, or the part of your home you want to remodel, was built before 1978, it may have lead paint. The EPA says that if you’re going to change six square feet or more of that structure in any way – new carpet, new windows, new countertops, even new paint – you’ll need to hire a contractor certified in the EPA’s new, sophisticated, and expensive lead remediation program, Lead-Safe Certification.

What It Means To You

A friend of mine who works for a large, family-owned flooring company here in the Dallas area says his employers have forbidden them from quoting on any job in a house that even looks like it was built in 1978. Which is killing business, just when many homeowners, who think their employment situation has stabilized, are starting to cough up money again for new carpeting. If my friend’s employers get caught by the EPA installing carpet in an older home that hasn’t been cleansed from all lead-based paint, they face a hefty fine.

So far, so much confusion exists over this new rule, which went into effect in April of this year, that many home remodeling companies like this family-operated flooring store seem scared to test its boundaries. A contractor which has bid on a project at my parents’ 1960 house says that since the part of the house he will be remodeling doesn’t have paint of any kind, he thinks he’s good to go – but even he expressed frustration over this new rule. He’s afraid he’s going to lose a lot of business because here in Texas, homeowners can hire illegal Hispanics by the dozen to do the work for which he as an incorporated contractor would have to charge extra. Not only will illegals not know about the new rule, but even if they did, their lack of proper paperwork makes them invisible to the EPA, so they can avoid the rules and get the work done without fear of any penalty.

In effect, the government could be putting legal, ethical businesspeople out of work and bolstering illegal immigration at the same time. Way to go, Washington!

Sure, Lead Paint Is Bad, But...

Not that the EPA has pulled their new rule out of thin air. They claim it primarily exists to protect small children who are the most susceptible to lead poisoning, which we all know is a real danger. However, how many families who can afford contractors to remodel old houses have small children? Most of them are empty-nesters or retirees, and even if a family with young kids did this remodeling themselves, how can the EPA equitably enforce such rule? Require everybody who buys sandpaper at Home Depot to sign an affidavit saying they’re going to get certified in the EPA’s new lead paint program?

Obviously, this new rule goes far beyond what could logically be considered a legitimate public safety ordinance. Plenty of knowledge regarding the dangers of lead-based paint exists in our society. Most contractors should already be wearing a facemask when sanding large surfaces, simply because dust of any kind can wreak havoc on one’s respiratory system. Does making everyone from carpet-layers to cabinet installers take classes on the dangers of lead-based paint really enhance environmental quality?

Back in the 1970’s, the EPA championed the eradication of lead from paint. At the time, some people probably thought the government was going too far, but lead-free paint makes sense for a healthier environment. Besides, if every store only sells lead-free paint, the market is still equal, and manufacturers can still compete based on quality and price.

This time, the government really has gone too far.
  • First, they are unnecessarily penalizing owners of a certain type of home. In some housing markets, the EPA could actually be harming the value of older homes just because it might contain lead paint.
  • Second, the enforcement of this new rule will be hopelessly arbitrary, and therefore unfair. It pits businesses who want to play by the rules against both unscrupulous businesses and illegal immigrants, for whom the rules hardly ever apply. It also is impossible to enforce if homeowners opt to perform this work themselves.
  • Third, it penalizes small home improvement firms like flooring stores, contractors, kitchen installers, and others who can’t afford the time and expense of the EPA’s new training and enforcement program.
  • It deprives legitimate home improvement businesses of desperately-needed remodeling jobs by unnecessarily removing a significant portion of America’s housing stock from the available pool of customers.
  • Its interpretation of the lead-based paint problem is far too broad and punitive. For example, how much lead paint gets released into the atmosphere when new carpet is laid?

Why Big Government Is Bad: Exhibit A

Whatever health benefits might be obtained by strict adherence to this rule are handily overwhelmed by all of the rule's negative aspects. It’s overkill, plain and simple. But since it’s become part of the EPA’s rulebook, overturning it will prove to be difficult.

When you have big government, not everybody can watch what all of the government agencies are doing. The EPA’s website says that they’ve solicited public input on their rules regarding lead paint for decades, but at their last hearing, only several hundred people participated. The EPA took that to mean that only a limited number of “stakeholders” were interested in this issue. But that’s not true, is it?

This rule affects millions of homeowners, most of whom will be dipping deep into savings or taking out loans to perform the maintenance and updating most of us consider to be a normal part of home ownership.

In effect, the government is putting small-business contractors on the firing line of this rule, penalizing them with fines for not adhering to it, or penalizing them with uncompetitive labor rates if they do.

Our government. At work. So you can’t.

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