The chairman of NAHB Remodelers called on a House subcommittee today to alter the government's lead-paint rule so that it stops restricting consumer choice, quits relying on faulty testing equipment, and doesn't get expanded unduly into commercial space.

William Shaw's  testimony before the House Energy and Commerce's Subcommittee on Commerce, Manufacturing, and Trade in effect urged passage of H.R. 2093, legislation introduced May 29 that seeks to lighten the burdens imposed by the Environmental Protection Agency's (EPA) Lead: Renovation, Repair, and Painting (RRP) rule. NAHB supports the bill.

Shaw--owner of William Shaw and Associates, a design/build firm based in Houston--also called on Congress to press the General Services Administration (GSA) to allow the use of multiple systems to rate whether a federal government structure should be regarded as green. In doing so, Shaw and NAHB Remodelers sided with those who dislike GSA's longtime endorsement of the U.S. Green Building Council's LEED rating system.

The lead-paint rule that occupied most of Shaw's testimony seeks to protect contractors and individuals from health dangers that arise from exposure to dust from lead paint. The rule requires that tests be conducted, remodelers be certified, and safety procedures be followed when working in homes built before 1978--the last year that use of lead paint in a home was allowed.

In its draft stage, RRP contained a provision that enabled a consumer to waive compliance rules if that person would attest there were no pregnant women or children under age 6 living in the home. But the final rule issued in April 2010 removed that opt-out clause. As a result, Shaw told the panel, the number of homes subject to RRP ballooned to 77.8 million from 37.6 million, and small businesses found themselves incurring an additional $507 million in compliance costs the first year alone.

"With the removal of the opt-out provision, those homeowners no longer have the option of foregoing the costs of compliance with RRP when hiring a professional remodeler to work on an older house," Shaw testified. "For the small contractor, these additional costs have to be passed onto the consumer which increases the chances a consumer will hire another, likely uncertified, contractor to do the work, or worse, do the work themselves and actually increase the likelihood of disturbing lead-based paint."

Shaw also pointed out that EPA issued the final rule under the expectation that a second generation of test kits would be available for sale that could detect lead-paint dust. That's important, because the first generation of those kits give false positives at least half the time, he said.

"As of today, 2-1/2 years after the EPA thought they would be on the market, Phase II test kits are still not available," Shaw's testimony declared. "To make matters worse, the EPA has no estimate as to when they will be available." Echoing language in H.R. 2093, Shaw said NAHB believes EPA should delay the rule's effective date until reliable testers are produced.

While RRP is intended today to be applied to homes, EPA has said it's considering whether to extend the rule's impact to public and commercial buildings. But EPA has yet to identify dangerous levels of lead in public and commercial buildings, Shaw said. He called on the panel to keep EPA from moving ahead on a rule expanding into commercial structures "without clear evidence and data showing lead poisoning risks."

The section of Shaw's testimony regarding green buildings stems from a dislike by many of LEED's de facto status as the federal government's green standard. Industry groups and associations--including the NAHB--have developed and championed different standards, and partly as a result of their efforts, GSA is reviewing whether to accept ratings by other systems besides LEED as acceptable measuring sticks to determine whether a federal building is green.

"I know that Congress is following this issue and many members of this Chamber have already weighed in with GSA," Shaw's testimony said. "I am hoping that GSA allows the use of multiple rating systems, and in particular will examine residential construction."

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