(Dow Jones) The Environmental Protection Agency has decided to delay enforcing a new lead-paint regulation following pressure from home builders and Congress.
The rule would require contractors who work in older homes to be certified by a government-approved trainer and follow several safety precautions.
The delay follows an outcry from businesses and trade groups, including the National Association of Home Builders, Home Depot Inc. and Lowe's Cos., as well as lawmakers in both parties. Industry groups said the rule would drive up costs and expose contractors to fines and litigation. Some also said it could derail Washington's efforts to promote energy efficiency because the EPA hasn't approved enough instructors for the required training programs.
The regulation took effect in April and covers tens of millions of homes built decades ago. It aims to reduce the amount of lead dust created during home renovation and repair. Some of the precautions for contractors include covering floors with plastic sheeting and dressing workers in protective clothing.
The EPA says lead-based paint was used in more than 38 million homes until the government banned it from housing in 1978. The average concentration of lead in the blood of young children has fallen sharply since then, but EPA officials say too many are still being poisoned by lead-based paint in their homes. The agency says that from 1999 through 2004, about 285,000 children between one and five years old were estimated to have elevated lead levels each year.
In a memorandum to EPA regional offices on Friday, Cynthia Giles, the agency's assistant administrator for enforcement, said the EPA wouldn't take enforcement action against renovation and repair firms for violations of the certification requirement until October. For renovation workers, the agency won't take enforcement action as long as they have applied for, or enrolled in, training classes by Sept. 30.
Ms. Giles said the EPA continues to believe "a disturbing number of America's children are . . . poisoned by lead-based paint," resulting in learning and behavioral disorders. But she acknowledged concerns about a shortage of trainers.
On Monday, the National Association of Home Builders welcomed the EPA's move, saying the agency "listened to our concerns and did the right thing."
The EPA has also come under fire from Congress. In May, the Senate voted 60-37 to bar it from fining companies or individuals found to have violated the rule.
The rule's supporters expressed dismay about the enforcement delay. "Industry voices have apparently drowned out those of our nation's children," said Rebecca Morley, executive director of the nonprofit National Center for Healthy Housing.
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