EPA vs. older homes

by Walter Olson on March 29, 2010

New federal regulations from the Environmental Protection Agency, aimed at curbing exposure to dust that might contain lead paint, will result in federal certification of many building-maintenance specialties and step up pressure against informal unlicensed suppliers of handyman and carpentry services:

On April 22, the Environmental Protection Agency is slated to enact rules requiring EPA certification for contractors working on homes built before lead paint was banned in 1978. The rule, aimed at limiting exposure to lead, applies to carpenters, plumbers, heating and air conditioning workers, window installers and others.

Two-thirds of U.S. homes and apartments (78 million out of 120 million) were built before 1978, says Calli Schmidt of the National Association of Home Builders (NAHB), citing Census Bureau data. She says half of the pre-1978 homes don’t contain lead but the rule, depending on implementation, might apply to all of them.

Making it unlawful to practice home renovation without federal certification will assuredly reduce the supply and raise the cost of renovations, the extent of the shift varying perhaps from one community to another depending on how professionalized the relevant markets already are. One result of shifting the cost curve will be to encourage teardowns of otherwise sound housing stock. Some other properties that remain occupied will simply go without renovations and repairs, with unpredictable (but probably not good) consequences for health and safety. [USA Today via Nick Gillespie, Reason] As for the prospect that the federal government will apply any sort of common-sense appraisal of the actual benefits of spending millions to avoid infinitesimal or nonexistent lead exposures, I’ll believe that when they fix CPSIA. More: WSJ (sub-only)

{ 2 trackbacks }

Green Police News: Unlawful to Practice Home Renovation Without Federal Certification « Aude Sapere
03.31.10 at 2:52 pm
Do as we say dept.: EPA and lead
04.16.10 at 8:01 am

{ 11 comments }

1 Doug 03.29.10 at 12:00 pm

This is what the public health nazis have wanted for years, further justification for their existence. The costs of these programs continue to rise for a infinitesimal amount of gain in a decrease of some illness. The unintended consequence will be more expensive housing and a greater number of renters.

2 gitarcarver 03.29.10 at 1:37 pm

A neighbor of mine is taking certification course tomorrow on this very subject. He is a plumber and is being required to get certified if, according to him, he may cut into or cut out 24 square feet of any surface.

The cost of the course is $285.

The fines for making cuts without being certified are $25,000 per instance.

3 Leafs 03.29.10 at 2:23 pm

And of course any changes I make to my home that helps eliminate these “toxins” I can write off 100% on my taxes, right?

4 GregS 03.29.10 at 2:33 pm

How does this apply to people renovating their own homes themselves? Do they need to get these certifications to work on their own houses?

5 William Nuesslein 03.29.10 at 3:19 pm

I believe that religion is a device that maximizes relatedness – one marries within his faith – without losing vitality – incest taboos. The newly formed Mormons jumped started relatedness through polygamy.

For religion to work as I indicated, the group had to distinguish their members from interlopers. You can’t use the square root of sixteen as a test as that can be figured out. Instead rituals and creeds are used, as long as the ritual or creed has no rational determinism. I did not attend church for some years before my grandmother’s funeral. I stood when I should have kneeled, and sat when I should have stood during her mass.

Thus religion will select for those who accept a group’s orthodoxy, such as the belief in a virgin birth. The asversion to toxins is a religious belief, and cleaning up is a cause. The regulations against lead make no sense at all scientifically but James August and other jealots control our regulatory institutions.

Our legal and political institutions are inefficient in handling this form of Religious extremism. It took 15 years to stop the Breast Implant Litigation. There is a widely held irrational belief that the air near the former World Trade Center was contaminated, even though the air was constantly refreshed and no measuring device had positive readings. (There was a dubious claim of one positive reading.) Representative Adler and others allocated about $800 million dollars to bogus claims and plaintiff’s lawyers.

The Catholic Church was hoisted by its own petard in being crucified by bad litigation that passed billions of its members’ dollars to phony claims. (And the evidence is strong that all the claims came from suggestion and access to money.)

I wish that I knew how to improve the situation. It is not just dumb Americans, as Europeans are just as bad. I take some comfort from Mr. Olson’s coverage of CPSIA and of this home restoration fiasco. Thank you, Mr. Olson.

6 Gilbertazhomes 03.30.10 at 12:39 pm

All this does is criminalize regular people trying to make an honest living in the free market who don’t have the time or the means to comply with additional government regulation and licensing. The bureaucracy is crushing the free market at every turn these days. That’s what we call “killing the golden goose.”

7 William Nuesslein 03.30.10 at 3:46 pm

Gilbertazhomes:

Licensing and regulations are not wrong per se. Licensing of doctors, dentists, and barbers is a good thing, and the life insurance companies owned by AIG and regulated by New York State survived the blow to AIG caused by the poorly regulated Financial Products division.

This is a case of excess regulation only because incidental lead is not a dangerous toxin. The inane rules for lead paint were driven in large part by the need of plaintiff’s lawyers to frighten the jury pool for their extortionate litigation. Then we have idiotic pediatric doctors who go along with the nonsense to protect the children. Not only do these regulations harm average middle class home re-modelers, they make painting the Pulaski Skyway prohibitively expensive.

8 gumby 03.30.10 at 7:07 pm

“This is a case of excess regulation only because incidental lead is not a dangerous toxin.”

Say what, now?

9 William Nuesslein 03.31.10 at 3:38 pm

You hit the nail on the head, gumby. If lead is the dangerous toxin that James August claims it to be, then the regulations in question are supportable.

Please see my earlier comment. Belief in the toxicity of lead has, in my opinion, become a religious belief. Listen to the evangelist talk about fighting off Satan. It’s the same thing. Suppose one saws a board that had been painted by lead paint. The disturbed surface area is small compared to the total surface of a board and any lead released from the sawing would be minute indeed. Such released lead will settle out and be picked up by a vacuum cleaner or adhere to a wall surface for decades. The probability of it be ingested is as near zero as near zero gets.

I am reminded of Barry Scheck’s argument that when Mr. Fung removed the cap from the vial containing OJ’s blood, a partial vacuum released OJ’s DNA into the air. It did not go out the ventilation system, attach to clothing, or adhere to a wall or the floor. No it landed on the swabs from the real killer and obliterated the DNA of the real killer.

If Barry Scheck’s argument makes sense to you, then you are beyond hope. So too with the lead scare.

10 robert 04.05.10 at 3:49 am

Barack H. Obama has a huge incentive to keep the prices of houses built during the bubble years inflated. (It seems he’s against “affordable housing” but that’s another story.) There’s that $8500 give-away program for first time homebuyers (which has a 50% fraud rate!) etc.

So finding ways to devalue older houses serves his needs nicely.

Our economy is now based on selling homes to each other at higher and higher prices, and using the magic equity from each inflated price to buy imports from China. We need to keep this going for another few years!

11 Jack Wilson 04.16.10 at 10:23 am

Another unintended consequence: from what I can tell this decree seems to apply specifically to houses with children. Therefore, landlords of older buildings will try to not rent to families with children.

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