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Bill would reform EPA Lead Rule

BY HBSDEALER Staff

The Environmental Protection Agency’s Lead: Renovation, Repair and Painting (LRRP) Rule is the subject of a bill in the House.

Congressman Tim Murphy (R-Pa.) and 21 co-sponsors introduced a bill in the House of Representatives that was crafted to reduce the burden of the regulation. 

The Lead Exposure Reduction Amendments Act of 2013 (H.R. 2093) would restore an opt-out provision from the original rule. The opt-out rule allowed homeowners without children under six or without pregnant women in residence to allow their contractor to forego the rigorous work practices required under the original rule. 

The EPA has estimated that the removal of the opt-out clause adds more than $336 million per year in compliance costs. 

Another provision calls for suspension of the rule for owner-occupied housing built between 1960 and 1978 without a pregnant woman or small child present, if the EPA cannot approve a test kit meeting its standard for false positives. The bill would also prohibit expansion of the rule to commercial buildings and provide certain exemptions for first-time paperwork violations. 

The introduction of the bill was applauded by the the National Lumber and Building Material Dealers Association. A Senate version of this legislation was introduced as S.484 by Sen. Jim Inhofe (R-Okla.) in March.

“This industry faced some tough years when the housing market crashed, and retrofit and remodeling work was critical in keeping some dealers in business,” said NLBMDA chairman Chuck Bankston, president of Bankston Lumber in Barnesville, Ga. "EPA’s forceful focus on paperwork violations, failure to approve a lead test kit meeting its own standards, and ever-broadening interpretation of the rule is having a chilling effect on our industry’s ability to have installed sales operations, serve remodelers and get energy-efficient products into homes. We applaud Congressman Murphy for his continued leadership on this issue, and we will make H.R. 2093 a top legislative priority." 

In addition to Rep. Murphy, the original cosponsors of H.R. 2093 are Reps. Bill Cassidy (R-La.), Tom Cole (R-Okla.), Kevin Cramer (R-N.D.), Chuck Fleischmann (R-Tenn.), Tim Griffin (R-Ark.), Brett Guthrie (R-Ky.), Ralph Hall (R-Texas), Steve King (R-Iowa), James Lankford (R-Okla.), Robert Latta (R-Ohio), Dave Loebsack (D-Iowa), Billy Long (R-Mo.), Frank Lucas (R-Okla.), Mark Meadows (R-N.C.), Markwayne Mullin (R-Okla.), Rich Nugent (R-Fla.), Pete Olson (R-Texas), Todd Rokita (R-Ind.), Bill Shuster (R-Pa.), Adrian Smith (R-Neb.), and Lynn Westmoreland (R-Ga).

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Existing-home sales up slightly

BY HBSDEALER Staff

The number of existing-home sales increased 0.6% in April to a seasonally adjusted annual rate of 4.97 million, compared with an upwardly revised 4.94 million in March.

The figures were released Wednesday morning by the National Association of Realtors (NAR). Sales remain below underlying demand because of limited inventory and tight credit, according to the NAR.

“The robust housing market recovery is occurring in spite of tight access to credit and limited inventory,” said Lawrence Yun, NAR chief economist. “Without these frictions, existing-home sales easily would be well above the 5-million unit pace,” he said. “Buyer traffic is 31% stronger than a year ago, but sales are running only about 10% higher. It’s become quite clear that the only way to tame price growth to a manageable, healthy pace is higher levels of new home construction.”

All regions are showing strong price gains from a year ago.

The national median existing-home price for all housing types was $192,800 in April, up 11.0% from April 2012. The last time there were 14 consecutive months of year-over-year price increases was from April 2005 to May 2006.

NAR president Gary Thomas, broker-owner of Evergreen Realty in Villa Park, Calif., said market conditions have flipped in the past year. “With homes selling in half the time it took to sell a year ago, buyers must be both decisive and prudent,” he said. “Advice with contract terms and negotiations is where the expertise of a Realtor shines for both buyers and sellers.”

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NRF opposes credit card swipe fee settlement

BY HBSDEALER Staff

The National Retail Federation has announced plans to formally oppose a proposed settlement of a federal antitrust lawsuit over credit card swipe fees charged by Visa and MasterCard. NRF is also urging retailers to carefully consider their own decisions before next week’s deadline set by the court.

“The proposed settlement does nothing to bring swipe fees under control, and would give Visa and MasterCard a legal blessing to continue their abuse of merchants and consumers indefinitely,” NRF SVP and general counsel Mallory Duncan said. “No settlement at all would be better than this one-sided ‘agreement’ written by the card companies for the card companies that would tie retailers’ hands for decades to come.”

While many retailers have already filed paperwork with the U.S. District Court in Brooklyn, N.Y., opposing the settlement, many small retailers have yet to act. Retailers who oppose the plan have until May 28 to say whether they will opt out of the money offered and accompanying restrictions on future legal action, object to proposed injunctive relief that comes with additional restrictions or — as NRF plans — do both. Under the class action terms of the proposed agreement, retailers who do not opt out by the deadline will automatically be considered to have accepted the settlement, and will give up the right to file future lawsuits over the fees and other restrictive rules. 

NRF believes the proposed settlement fails to reform the price-fixing system under which Visa and MasterCard set the schedule of swipe fees followed by the thousands of banks that issue their credit cards. The organization also believes the proposed settlement fails to introduce transparency that would lead to competition to lower the fees. Rather than lowering the fees, the card companies have proposed that the fees be passed along to consumers in the form of a surcharge, even though most major retailers have rejected surcharges as the opposite of what they have sought during the years-long fight over swipe fees. 

Retailers who do not opt out — and thereby become fully bound by the restrictions of the agreement — will be eligible for a share of $7.25 billion. But the figure amounts to less than three months’ worth of swipe fee charges, and the small retailers hit hardest by the fees would give up their rights for as little as a few hundred dollars.

The suit was brought in 2005 by 19 trade associations and individual retail companies, but a majority — including all six trade associations — rejected the settlement when it was proposed last summer. NRF, like most retailers, is not a party to the lawsuit, but has led the retail industry’s opposition to the settlement because NRF member companies would be dragged into its terms as part of the class action.

Averaging about 2%, swipe fees are a percentage of the transaction taken by banks each time a consumer swipes a credit card to pay for a purchase, and total about $30 billion a year nationwide. The fees have tripled over the past decade, and drive prices up for the average household by more than $250 per year.

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