Friday, July 13, 2012

Lead paint rule all wet

If you are planning home renovations, expect to pay extra if you live in an older home. A federal court has ruled that a U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) rule related to lead paint applies to all homes built before 1978 — without exceptions. That means regulatory costs will be passed on to homeowners, even where lead paint poses little-to-no health threats.

Lead paint can be an issue for children under six years old that are chronically exposed to relatively high levels of peeling paint and related dust. Health impacts range from lead poisoning in severe cases to modest impacts on learning ability. Risks exist largely in older homes that are not properly maintained, often in low-income neighborhoods where residents cannot afford proper repairs and upkeep. Lead paint does not pose the same problem for people over the age of six.

Fortunately, the problem has diminished over the past several decades. Since 1997, the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) reports that the number of children with elevated lead blood levels found in their surveillance samples has declined from 7.61% to 0.83% by 2008.

Nonetheless, a 2008 EPA rule requires that those contracted to perform home remodeling and repairs must take an eight-hour course and gain certification before they can work on homes that might contain lead paint. Before beginning a project, remodelers must also test for lead paint in these older homes in the areas they plan to work. If lead paint is present, the contractor must implement “lead free-work practices,” as defined by the regulation. According to EPA, these practices are designed to contain the work area to minimize dust, and ensure thorough cleanup.

Originally, the rule allowed homeowners who did not have children six years of age and younger, or pregnant women living in the home, to opt out of lead-safe work practices because the risks of lead in those cases are negligible. But the Obama EPA eliminated that provision in 2010. According to EPA estimates, elimination of the opt-out rule increased regulatory costs by more than $500 million in the first year, by more than $300 million in the second year, and by more than $200 million in the following years.

The National Association of Home Builders (NAHB) opposed the elimination of the op-out option rule and argued its case before the D.C. Circuit Court, but the court has recently ruled the law valid.  The only hope for change now lies with Congress. Senator James Inhofe (R-Okla.) and Rep. John Sullivan (R-Okla.) both have introduced legislation to restore the op-out provisions (H.R. 5911 and S. 2148).

The Obama regulation’s cost is “substantial,” says NAHB, because it
    increases the cost of the rule without providing a corresponding benefit. … NAHB is concerned that home owners will turn to unlicensed contractors, decide to do the project themselves, or defer maintenance instead of paying the additional $2,400 our members estimate is added to the cost of every project subject to the regulation.

An article in The Fiscal Times [1] detailed the impact on one small business in Ohio:
    The new rule’s detailed compliance requirements, related paperwork, and purchases of EPA required equipment added thousands of dollars to the cost of doing business and made it much harder for her [owner Kathy Faia] to compete for remodeling contracts. Business has dropped off by more than two thirds, and she had to lay off one of her workers. ‘I’m just barely hanging on,’ she says. ‘They [the EPA] are over-regulating and sucking all of the fun out of the remodeling business.’

Requiring homeowners without any children in their home to comply with the lead-paint rule does nothing to address lead-paint problems and likely provides zero health benefits. It does make it difficult for many small businesses to survive. And ironically, regulations that make remodeling more expensive could exacerbate the cases where health risks exist by discouraging repairs that would otherwise reduce lead-paint-based risks.


Big people don’t need Big Government

Blaming obesity on food sellers implies only regulations can save us

The public health community has gone whole hog in placing blame for obesity on our "obesogenic" environment that steers us toward overeating and exercising too little. "Obesogenic" is the fancy term for something – like, say, that burger or hot dog you're planning to throw on the grill this weekend – that the public health community claims causes obesity.

The Institute of Medicine released a 462-page report in May arguing that blaming the obese for their own problems is not an effective solution to our obesity epidemic. And in June, editors of a prominent medical journal began a series on "Big Food," claiming that companies control what we eat – thus lending support for the strategy of blaming sellers for creating an "obesogenic" environment.

Blaming sellers feels good at first, but is misguided at best and detrimental at worst because it falsely implies that only government can solve our weight problems.

One key assumption of public health paternalists is that citizens do not recognize various personal health risks associated with obesity. This is a silly objection on its face – even children understand that a regular diet of ice cream and pizza is not good for your health. But there's also data to support this notion: A 2008 study in the American Journal of Health concluded that overweight Americans' own mortality predictions were "reasonably close" to those generated from actual life tables for U.S. adults.

Public health scolds also assume we don't have sufficient incentives to deal with our own body weight. This runs counter to the multibillion-dollar market for diet books, health foods, weight-loss centers and surgeries, exercise equipment and athletic clubs – clear evidence that people are concerned over their weight.

But never mind the evidence – according to the experts, we've met the enemy, and it's us. And their solution to reducing calories is increasing the size of government. Unfortunately, government-imposed solutions like "fat taxes" have a less-than-stellar track record of getting results.

For instance, economists have recently demonstrated that even an enormous 58 percent tax on soda would drop the average body mass index by only 0.16 points – a trivial effect since obesity is defined as a BMI of at least 30. People who consume a lot of soda simply pay the higher taxes, substitute into lower-priced soda, or take advantage of bulk discounted purchases. (As is always the case with excise taxes like these, the poor shoulder a relatively heavier burden.)

Experience with tobacco-control programs also suggests that few of these "fat tax" dollars will find their way to obesity-control programs. For instance, the CDC reported in May that only 2.4 percent of total state tobacco revenue received in 2010 were used for tobacco-control programs. State governments happily siphoned these dollars for their own fiscal needs. Expect the same "bait and switch" with tax dollars on soda and other products with no public health gain.

The hard truth is that governments have no special expertise in solving obesity, and no public mandate to do so. Contrast this with the dynamic market for weight-loss products, which encourages the best strategies, eliminate the failures, and consistently offers new and better alternatives. Demands for real solutions prompt supply by eager entrepreneurs with products that no government bureaucrat could ever imagine.

In the mind of public health paternalists, solutions that allow individuals to address their unique needs are given short shrift as interventions come one-size-fits-all. But the evidence suggests that real solutions begin at the level of individuals and end with market solutions, without falling into the trap of blaming business or society for our problems.


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