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Do The Math: 23 New Regulations and Counting

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You may have noticed some of the recent changes to the Government Relations page on ACCA’s website that provides you more information about all the issues we are tracking and guidance on how you can help push the pro-HVACR contractor agenda in Washington.

We’ve made these changes to make it easier for ACCA members to take an active role in policies that could directly impact their business operations. A lot of people discount their chances of making a difference, not realizing that it’s simple for any individual to contact their representatives in Congress about bills that may affect them. The same holds true for the regulatory agencies as they write or amend rules.

The pace of activity in Washington has increased tremendously over the last two decades with the advancement in electronic information exchange. Congress frequently fast tracks bills in big, thousand page omnibus packages that impact dozens of industries. Federal agencies are expanding their regulatory scope and aggressively pushing their agendas. Today it is routine for an agency to release a proposed rulemaking that covers 100 pages in the Federal Register. If you aren’t on top of your game something can, and will, slip by.

Flying Under the Radar
For years, the manufacturers, distributors, and contractors of the HVACR industry had separate approaches and strategies when it came to Washington. You could argue that the bulk of the regulatory or legislative burden was carried by the manufacturers. Congress and the agencies treated the manufacturers as big businesses, lumping them together with automobile or steel manufactures. On the other hand, HVACR contractors and distributors united with other small business groups to fight for their interests: lower taxes and tax reform, association health plans, and less intrusion from the government.

But over the last decade policy makers and regulators have shown a greater interest in reducing energy use in homes and buildings and mitigating the environmental impacts from the combustion of fossil fuels and the release of chemicals that destroy the ozone or trap heat in the upper atmosphere.

It’s only logical that policy makers would turn their attention to our industry when more than half the energy consumed in a home or a commercial building is for HVAC and hot water.

With this interest in energy efficiency, policy makers have focused more of their attention on incentive program dollars to help homeowners and building owners to reach for higher efficiency equipment, whether from federal, state, or utility sources.

The other part of this shift is a greater emphasis on requirements to manufacture HVAC and hot water appliances to use less energy through stricter energy conservation standards, including regional standards. It’s also meant to accelerate the phase-out of the production and use of HCFC refrigerants like R-22, along with the potential for expanded regulations on HFC refrigerants.

There would be no reason to expect the number of bills or rules that directly impact HVACR contractors to lessen over the next five to 10 years.

The Contractor’s Role
ACCA wants to make it easier for contractors to make their voice heard by Congress or the regulatory agencies. ACCA’s Grassroots Action Center is set up so that any ACCA member can send message to their lawmaker on a specific piece of legislation. The site contains information on bills that would promote the industry, like the Home Owner Managing Energy Savings Act of 2013 (HOMES Act) that would authorize a significant new federal incentive for making energy efficient retrofit improvements to existing single family and some multifamily dwellings. The HOMES Act specifically endorses contractors accredited by ACCA’s Quality Assurance programs as eligible to perform qualified retrofit jobs. It may not move forward on its own, but a big push by the contractor community could make sure it continues to be included in the overall energy debate.

The regulatory process, like the rulemaking that will set the regional standards enforcement rules, operates a little differently. There’s no simple system to allow a large group of stakeholders to submit pre-written statements, but there’s still an opportunity for stakeholder input by submitting individual comments during the comment period. Under the Administrative Procedures Act that governs rulemakings; all stakeholder comments must be read and considered by the agency. Anyone with an interest can also participate in stakeholder meetings that are publicly announced and usually allow for remote participation.

By my last count there were 23 rulemakings from various federal regulatory agencies in the works that ACCA is tracking or monitoring. Included are rulemakings at the Department of Energy, the U.S. EPA, the Department of Labor, and the Occupational Safety and Health Administration. When you add in the dozens of bills affecting the HVACR industry before Congress you can understand why we are renewing our efforts to get more contractors involved.

By all accounts ACCA has done a very good job keeping up with all the activity so far, but we’ll need help from those who are on the ground. It’s no coincidence that most trade associations are based in Washington and that’s because their leadership wants to make the most of any opportunities or respond to any threats quickly and effectively. It’s going to take a team effort of all ACCA members and our industry partners to protect and promote the industry going forward.

Charlie McCrudden

Posted In: Government

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