Nine House members submitted legislation May 14 that would remove much of the sting from the Environmental Protection Agency's (EPA) lead-paint rule.

H.R. 2328 was introduced by Rep. Kevin Cramer, R-N.D., with seven Republican and one Democrat co-sponsors. While the text wasn't available online late today, its backers described the language as a duplicate of a bill that was introduced in Congress' last session but failed to win passage.

The bill targets EPA's Lead: Renovation, Repair, and Painting (RRP) rule, which applies to work done in homes, apartments, and child-occupied commercial facilities built before 1978. If the job requires disturbing more than 6 square feet of interior or 20 square feet of exterior paint, or if it involves replacing windows of any size, there is a possibility the work will produce dust containing lead paint, a known health hazard. Because of that danger, the contractor must either do the job using lead-safe practices or else test the surface to determine if it contains lead. Companies that violate the work practice, training, or administrative rules could face fines of up to $37,500 per day

Remodelers contend that lead-safe practices are expensive and time-consuming and sometimes impossible to comply with, while the few test kits available too often give false positives, thus forcing them to don protective equipment when it wasn't necessary. Critics also dislike the idea that lead-paint dust is mainly a problem involving small children and the elderly, so they ask why they need to put on masks and engage in lead-safe practices in homes where neither children nor the elderly live.

When it was preparing the final rule five years ago, the EPA had planned to include a provision giving homeowners the right to opt out of the RRP provisions if they would attest there were no kids or elderly on the premises. But the EPA removed that opt-out provision when it issued the final rule.

H.R.2328 would direct the EPA to restore that opt-out provision. It also presses the EPA to approve a test kit that meets its own standards for avoiding false positives, and it would bar extension of the EPA to commercial structures as now is being contemplated.

NAHB Remodelers chairman Robert Criner commended the bill's co-sponsors for taking action. “On the heels of EPA’s final rule extending the recertification deadline for thousands of remodelers, H.R. 2328 will make more common sense improvements for home owners and remodelers who must comply with the lead paint regulation’s costly requirements,” said Criner, a remodeler from Newport News, Va.

"EPA has done a poor job of implementing the RRP rule, including failing to approve accurate test kits and removing the opt-out provision after the rule took effect," said Jonathan Paine, president and CEO of the National Lumber and Building Material Dealers Association. "Reform is needed to make the rule workable for remodelers while protecting pregnant women and young children from lead exposure." The Window and Door Manufacturers association issued a similar statement.

So far, no companion bill has been filed in the Senate. Proponents of RRP reform despaired over any possibility of action last year because Democrats controlled that chamber. Now, with the GOP in charge, hopes for change have risen.

See past articles on RRP and lead-safe practices