Opinions


Regulators Shift into Overdrive in D.C.

May 28, 2012
Since January 2011, there has been a subtle shift in Washington, D.C., that has had a big impact on the HVAC industry. Before that the Democrats had been in control of the House, Senate, and White House since 2009. This allowed them to push through their agenda, which included a stimulus bill and health care legislation.

At that time, they also put bills like the American Clean Energy and Security Act, better known as the cap-and-trade bill, and the Home Star energy retrofit bill on a legislative fast track. All of these were part of the legislative freight train rolling downhill until the elections of 2010 — when most of the controversial bills coming to a screeching halt.

In the 2010 elections, the Republicans took control of the House and tightened up the difference in the Senate. What we have had since then is legislative gridlock with the words compromise and bipartisan used to denigrate politicians who are not conservative or liberal enough for their base.

I know a portion of you reading this are thinking, “Great. This is exactly what we need. That way the government can’t get in our way.”

Well, not so fast, my friend. What I’ve learned is that the slowdown in legislation has led to increased activity elsewhere in the capital. Since the 2010 elections, there has been a flurry of activity at federal departments, agencies, boards, and commissions. According to Charlie McCrudden, vice president of government relations for the Air Conditioning Contractors of America (ACCA), President Obama’s administration now must now rely on the “levers that they have through the regulatory agencies.”

Jon Melchi, director of government affairs for Heating, Air-conditioning, Refrigeration Distributors International (HARDI), agreed. “The regulatory environment is having an impact on our business, and it’s coming from all directions right now,” he said.

Here’s a hot list of activity at some of the federal bureaucracies that are having a direct impact on contractors and distributors.

DOE

The Department of Energy (DOE) is working to issue its Guidelines for Home Energy Professionals. According to the DOE website, these guidelines will “foster the growth of a high-quality residential energy upgrade industry and a skilled and credentialed workforce.” The guidelines include four certifications in the home energy upgrade industry: energy auditor, retrofit installer, crew leader, and quality control inspector.

This sounds good, but it was originally developed outside the HVAC industry. Recognized industry training and education groups like ACCA and North American Technician Excellence (NATE) had limited means for input once it was put to public review. Do you really want the DOE telling you how to certify your techs?

NLRB

The National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) passed a controversial accelerated election rule at the end of 2011. According to a recent blog by McCrudden, this election rule “put time on the side of the union, and it essentially deprives employers of a significant number of their previous due process rights.”

This move has been temporarily halted by a lawsuit and subsequent ruling by a federal district court judge. Yet, according to McCrudden, it still may pose many hurdles for employers facing a union election. He noted that, among other things, the new rule includes provisions to limit the filing of post-hearing briefs and delay NLRB review and resolution for pre-election issues (including questions of voter eligibility) until after an election has already been conducted.

EEOC

The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) recently issued guidance documents regarding the use of arrest or conviction records in employment decisions. They are called “guidance documents” because the commission does not have the authority to issue a rule, but EEOC does throw its weight as a federal agency behind its publications. Under the section that describes best practices for employers, the document recommends that employers who are considering criminal record information when making employment decisions “eliminate policies or practices that exclude people from employment based on any criminal record.”

Regulatory Activism

These are just a few examples of the current regulatory activism in D.C. I don’t have room to go into the recent DOE ruling on regional standards, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) ruling on the manufacture of dry-charge R-22 condensing units, or the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) and Federal Trade Commission (FTC) rulings that are making distributors pull their hair out.

Industry associations like ACCA, HARDI, and the Air-Conditioning, Heating and Refrigeration Institute (AHRI) have been putting significant resources and man-hours behind efforts to positively influence and steer these agencies. In fact, ACCA and HARDI were part of a 600-plus member group called the Coalition for a Democratic Workplace that joined the Chamber of Commerce in the successful NLRB lawsuit.

For members of the HVAC industry, ask yourself: Is now the time to join an association? And, furthermore, is now the time to invest in industry-sponsored fly-ins to Washington, D.C., so that your voice can be heard? I think the answer is a resounding yes.

Publication date: 05/28/2012

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