Hobbyists Exempt From New EPA Rule

May 1, 2008 | By William D. Hayes

Last month we ran a News page item regarding the exemption of hobbyists from new EPA rules that require training for those involved in auto painting and put restrictions on the equipment and facilities used. However, the rules, while still under consideration, had caused enough public concern that we felt a legal analysis was in order. William Hayes, an environmental attorney—and owner of a ’72 BMW—was perfect for the task.

The environmental lawyer in me likes the new EPA rule on emissions from auto body refinishing. The gearhead in me does, too. Because despite fears that the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency would shut down hobbyist restorers, that simply is not the case. On the contrary, the rule keeps folks like me in mind while still making sure all of us breathe a little easier in the long run.

I’ve got three classic cars. Each has its own charms along with its own challenges. My ’72 BMW 3.O CS is a beaut; lovingly restored to its glory days,at least in my eyes. The ’65 MG isn’t ready for prime time, and I am pretty sure it never will be, much less run. The ’88 Alfa Romeo is a work in progress, desperately in need of a paint job.

If I were so inclined, I could do the work myself without having to worry about the EPA knocking at my door. The emissions standards DO NOT apply to anyone who refinishes two or fewer vehicles per year, provided they do not receive any compensation. Instead, however, I’m trusting the job to the professionals, and they DO face new requirements, as well as new scrutiny.

Who the Rule Covers

The rule that was finalized in January affects “area sources” of emissions; that is, those operations whose potential emissions are less than 10 tons a year of a single hazardous air pollutant (HAP) or 25 tons per year of a combination of hazardous air pollutants. Operations involving paint stripping, surface coating of motor vehicles and mobile equipment, and miscellaneous surface-coating operations are subject to the new regulation. This includes those who refinish autos or coat plastic parts and products. The goal is to reduce HAPs that affect public health in urban areas by tightening control over some of the smaller emitters. In other words, to regulate the many smaller businesses that, on their own, perhaps do not significantly affect the environment, but when taken together with other smaller businesses, do have a significant impact.

While the new rule is not as restrictive as expected, it does spell out requirements regarding how workers are trained, what they’re trained in, what type of equipment they use and how businesses monitor and record emissions and emission control. Existing operations have three years to implement the changes (with the clock starting in January 2008), while new businesses have to be in compliance when they start up.

Coating Operations Face Tight Restrictions

In some cases, the EPA has left decisions on how to go about reducing emissions up to the individual companies or operators, saying they know their businesses best. For example, paint-stripping operations that use more than a ton of methylene chloride (MeCl) annually must have a written plan to reduce the emissions and the plan must address what companies are doing to properly store and dispose of materials containing

MeCl. The EPA is not specific on what the plan might entail; only that it must include practices and policies that minimize MeCl emissions and optimize stripper application. Those operations that use less than a ton of MeCl-containing stripper also must implement practices to cut emissions, and their records have to back that up.

The guidelines get more specific when it comes to what’s required of surface coating operations, both in terms of equipment and training. On training, operators must ensure that their painters who use hand-held devices have been trained in techniques that minimize overspray as well as in techniques to safely select and clean spray guns. Guns can’t be cleaned with an atomized solvent, for example, but can be hand-cleaned as long as the spent solvent is captured and properly disposed of. Training certification is required, and workers must take a refresher course at least once every five years to keep their certification. Spray painters who have been trained in such techniques in the past five years can use that certification to demonstrate compliance, but still must have the refresher course at the appropriate (five year) interval. It’s important to note that painters who use brushes or rollers do not need the training.

Equipment specifications for coating companies are many, covering everything from the type of spray gun used to the type of spray booth that is used to the ventilation and filtering requirements.

Comprehensive Report Requirements

Regardless of whether businesses have been around awhile or are brand-new, all companies that are sources of these emissions must be on record with the EPA or the state or local air pollution control agency. They must submit a notification that they’re aware of the rule and are or will be in compliance by the target date.

Additionally, businesses must keep complete and accurate records on training, filter efficiency, spray gun efficiency, MeCl annual usage and which paint strippers containing MeCl are used, notifications, reports and compliance activities. The EPA estimates the average shop will spend about six and a half hours each year on maintaining records once the full compliance period is reached. Remember, that’s the government’s estimate!

Good records will be the shops’ first line of defense and, for the EPA, the first line of offense to ensure the rule is being followed. Shops should expect a fair amount of outreach early on as the government works to let businesses know about the new rule.

However, after about a year of this, businesses will find less tolerance for procrastination or violations.

EPA Forecasts Industry Savings

During the public comment period, some industry representatives voiced objections over the costs of the training, the equipment and the reporting requirements. (For details on all of these requirements, please see http://www.epa.gov/EPA-AIR/2008/January/Day-09/a24718. pdf.) In every case, however, the EPA says the new rule will, in fact, result in a cost savings for most businesses.

In terms of training, the EPA estimates costs at $1000 per painter, but goes on to say it believes that estimate is inflated for multiple reasons. It notes that many facilities already require training for their painters—much of which is provided by paint companies to help reduce warranty claims—and the new rule doesn’t impose additional training costs. It also says that according to industry data, properly trained painters can cut the amount of coating used by about 20 percent per job, thereby offsetting any increased training expenditures.

On equipment costs, the EPA says outlays for the new, compliant spray booths, spray guns and filters will be offset by increased efficiencies in both labor and materials. And on reporting costs, the

EPA again says the cost is too small to be of consequence, estimating an annual cost of $11 for some stripping operations.

Business and Consumer Heard

It’s worth pointing out that the final rule does a good job of balancing environmental concerns with industry needs and flexibility. Revisions have narrowed the focus, extended the compliance timeline and left many decisions up to businesses in terms of what management practices they institute to comply with regulations.

“All of us also should recognize that this is not the end of regulations that hit home, but more likely the beginning.”

Revisions also reflect industry comments on equipment specifications, with the EPA relaxing some of its earlier requirements to increase flexibility while still staying true to the intent and the purpose of the rule.

As an example, the EPA originally required the use of polyester fiberglass filters. Commenters demonstrated that non-polyester fiberglass filters can often obtain the same or better efficiency— often at a lower cost—and so the EPA revised the rule to say that any filter can be used as long as it meets an efficiency standard of 98 percent or better. The rule also includes a fairly detailed definition of what a coating is, excluding items that don’t include hazardous air pollutants or that are not applied via a spray gun. That means there are no worries about decorative or protective finishes that consist of only oils, paper film or plastic film that was pre-coated with adhesive by a manufacturer, temporary lubricants or protective coatings, or sealants, adhesive or caulking materials.

The EPA also clearly says in several places that hobbyists are exempt, provided they do two or fewer vehicles per year without compensation. Anyone who does more than two cars a year— regardless of whether any money changes hands—IS subject to the rules. The EPA says that limit will ensure that commercial operations don’t try to skirt the rules by claiming to be hobby shops.

What This Means for Hobbyists and Vehicle Owners

Although the EPA says the new standards will save businesses money, it’s likely that some costs will be passed onto consumers, both the DIY set as well as those who take their cars to the shop.

For hobbyists and business owners alike, this would be a good time to talk with suppliers about what impact the rule will have on equipment cost, efficiency and availability, as they, too, will have to make adjustments in response to the new regulations.

All of us also should recognize that this is not the end of regulations that hit home, but more likely the beginning. Having already tackled manufacturing processes, the EPA is now turning its attention to the product itself, and how its end use affects the environment. Just last year, for example, the EPA issued new rules limiting volatile organic compounds in architectural and industrial maintenance products as well as in consumer products like shampoo.

Everything from dye to deodorant, from paint to perfume, from sealant to shampoo, emits volatile organic compounds, or VOCs. These VOCs are a precursor to ozone, and as such, fall under EPA regulation. Ozone in the upper atmosphere is something we work to preserve, but at ground level it’s what causes smog and respiratory problems.

The rules regulating emissions from architectural and industrial maintenance products and this latest rule on paint and coating operations are likely the first of many such rules meant to curb emissions at the point of use.

In other words, dictating the amount of VOC that a window cleaner or deodorant contains will limit the VOCs released during use. While each use may be minimal, when added up, studies have shown the reductions can impact an area’s air quality. A handful of states on both coasts have adopted similar and sometimes more far-reaching rules, with national standards to come.

Cleaner products, cleaner processes and cleaner applications together will put us on the road to cleaner air. That will make a sweet ride all the sweeter.

William D. Hayes is a partner in the Cincinnati office of Vorys, Sater, Seymour and Pease LLP, where his practice focuses on air quality issues. His work on the new rule for national emission standards for paint stripping and miscellaneous surface-coating operations at area sources helped drive a final rule that increases filter options and cost flexibility for those in the industry. Hayes represents a variety of industries with air emissions, including automobile manufacturing and parts industries, mineral processing, printing, coating and wood processing firms.