JUNE 3, 2010 -- The U.S. Senate has voted to delay imposition of fines and liability related to the controversial new federal lead rule, and one senator has called for a hearing on the measure.

The move to delay the rule came May 26 in an amendment (S. 4253) to the Fiscal Year 2010 Emergency Supplemental Appropriations bill (H.R. 4899). The amendment was introduced by Sen. Susan Collins (R, Maine) and approved May 27 on a 60-37 vote. It will now go to the House.

At issue is the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s “Lead-safe Renovation, Repair and Painting Rule,” which took effect April 22. The measure requires contractors and companies to earn lead-safe certification if their work will disturb more than six square feet of interior paint in a home, day-care center or school built before 1978. Fines for non-compliance range up to $37,500 per violation per day.

The rule has raised a firestorm among contracting and remodeling-related trade associations and retailers, who say that contractors have not had enough time to prepare for it.

Collins’ amendment would bar the EPA from levying fines against contractors who have signed up for training classes by Sept. 30, 2010. Nor could the agency “hold any person liable for construction or renovation work performed by the person, in any State…” The measure was co-sponsored by 14 Republican senators and by Sen. Mark Begich, D-Alaska.

“Unfortunately, as a result of EPA's lack of planning, there still are not enough certified trainers in most states to educate contractors about these new requirements,” Collins said in a statement. “In Maine, there are just three EPA-certified trainers. Hundreds of Maine contractors have signed up for training, but are being forced to wait.”

EPA has said the RRP Rule had a two-year phase-in period and that more than 220,000 contractors have already been certified, with about 30,000 to go. The agency also says that many of its trainers are mobile and that training is available in every state.

EPA says it has had to cancel hundreds of training classes over the last year, due to lack of attendance. The rule’s requirements are “simple, low-cost, common-sense steps contractors can take during their work to protect children and families,” the EPA said in a memo on enforcement, issued April 20.

“EPA has conducted extensive outreach and compliance assistance efforts for the RRP Rule for almost two years,” the memo said.

An EPA spokesman declined Wednesday to comment on the Senate action, saying the agency does not comment on pending legislation.

Collins said EPA “must step up to the plate and work quickly to boost the number of certified trainers in each state.”

“The fines that EPA will levy would be devastating to small businesses that have been unable to comply due to EPA's failure to adequately plan for the implementation of this rule,” Collins said.

Said co-sponsor Olympia Snowe (R, Maine): “… I am concerned about the manner in which EPA has failed to provide information and public notice about this major lead abatement rule, causing confusion for homeowners and uncertainty for businesses.”

Last week, co-sponsor Lamar Alexander (R-Tenn.), wrote a letter to EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson requesting a delay in fines, more training, and the restoration of an “opt-out” provision that would have allowed homeowners to sign a waiver exempting their contractor from the requirements.

EPA eliminated the opt-out option in a separate action after the rule was implemented, triggering even more opposition.

After the Senate approval of the delay, co-sponsor James Inhofe (R, Okla.) called for the Senate Committee on Environment and Public Works to conduct an oversight hearing “to help alleviate the widespread confusion over the rule's implementation.”

In addition to Snowe, Alexander and Inhofe, the measure’s Republican co-sponsors were Sens. Christopher S. Bond (Mo.), George V. Voinovich (Ohio), John Thune (S.D.), Tom Coburn (Okla.), Judd Gregg (N.H.), Lisa Murkowski (Alaska), Bob Corker (Tenn.), John Barrasso (Wyo.), Scott P. Brown (Mass.), Kay Bailey Hutchison (Texas), and Michael Enzi (Wyo.).