EPA reaffirms Lead-Safe Renovation, Repair, and Painting Rule, citing 150% to 500% payback

Tom Neltner, J.D.is Chemicals Policy Director

In April 2018, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) completed a thorough review of its Lead-Safe Renovation, Repair, and Painting Rule (RRP) promulgated a decade ago. This rule requires contractors and landlords to use lead-safe work practices when more than minor amounts of lead-based paint in homes built before 1978 are disturbed. It also applies to pre-1978 child-occupied facilities. This review was conducted pursuant to Section 610 of the Regulatory Flexibility Act because of RRP’s significant impact on more than 300,000 small businesses that perform more than 4 million affected projects each year.

EPA concluded that RRP, including several post-2008 amendments, “should remain unchanged without any actions to amend or rescind it.” As part of the review, the agency updated its economic analysis and found that the estimated annual societal benefits, primarily in improved children’s IQ, of $1.5 to $5 billion exceeds the $1 billion in estimated annual compliance costs. Those estimates translate into an impressive annual payback of 150% to 500%. Keep in mind that these benefits do not include the lower risk of premature cardiovascular deaths attributed to adult lead exposure in a March 2018 report in Lancet.

Separately, a report from the Health Impact Project, a collaboration of the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation and the Pew Charitable Trust (RWJF/Pew Report) found that:

Ensuring that contractors comply with the Environmental Protection Agency’s rule that requires lead-safe renovation, repair, and painting practices would protect about 211,000 children born in 2018 and provide future benefits of $4.5 billion, or about $3.10 per dollar spent. This includes $990 million in federal and $500 million in state and local health and education savings and increased revenue. The effort would cost about $1.4 billion.

As part of its Section 610 review, EPA carefully considered 35 comments, including EDF’s, which it received on RRP since 2008. The analysis reveals that the industry’s long-standing objections were either unsubstantiated, overblown, or had already been addressed through rule changes. I encourage every one of the hundreds of people who train and certify renovators in RRP compliance to study EPA’s analysis so they can help students understand why lead-safe work practices are so important.

A controversial rule from the start

Since it was promulgated in 2008, the RRP has been controversial with the lead poisoning prevention advocates and the renovation industry. Both groups challenged the rule in court. Advocates, led by Sierra Club, demanded three things: (1) removal of the option for people to opt out of work practices if no children were present; (2) require dust clearance testing, especially for major projects, to confirm that no lead-dust hazards remained after cleaning; and (3) extend the rule beyond residences and child-occupied facilities to include public and commercial buildings as required by Congress. In 2009, EPA reached a settlement with advocates to reconsider the rule in light of their three demands, ultimately accepting the first in 2010, rejecting the second in 2011, and continuing to work on the third.

Industry dropped its initial challenge but went to court to block the EPA’s 2010 rule change prompted by the settlement. In 2012, the U.S. District of Columbia Court of Appeals unanimously rejected their arguments. Despite the court decision, industry continued to seek action in Congress and at EPA, and health advocates continued to voice concerns about EPA’s inadequate efforts to ensure compliance with the rule.

In addition, EPA’s Inspector General (IG) has published two reports on RRP. In 2012, the IG criticized the agency’s cost-benefit analysis of the rule and in 2013 concluded that EPA is not recovering all its costs from licensing fees. In addition, the IG announced in March 2018 that it was investigating whether the agency “has an effective strategy to implement and enforce the lead-based paint RRP.”

Next steps for EPA

Since 2010, when RRP went into effect, we have seen significant reductions in children’s exposure to lead, thanks to this rule and many other federal, state, and local actions. Continued progress takes vigilance. Hopefully, EPA’s review will put industry complaints against the current rule to rest, enabling the agency to help states adopt the rule and strengthen efforts to ensure more effective local compliance. Since lead-based paint remains in homes, only through aggressive compliance assurance can we continue to make progress and not backslide. And, as an added benefit, compliance levels the playing field so that renovators committed to protecting children’s health are not working at a competitive disadvantage.

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