Feds simplify home energy program

February 1, 2001 By    

Making homes energy efficient may have become programmatically simpler.

The Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy of the Department of Energy issued interim rules to streamline operation of the Weatherization Assistance Program for Low-Income Persons.

The new rules require states to schedule production annually instead of quarterly (though they must note the number of previously served homes to get a second weatherization).

Contrary to speculation, DOE is not planning to end state policy advisory councils. The agency wants to give states flexibility to replace ones that aren’t working.

States will have to annually certify to DOE that their councils independently review activities and allow discussion at the required state plan public hearing.

The rules also allow programs to separately itemize the costs of eliminating health and safety hazards from a home. Programs had complained that including them in the average cost of weatherizing a home drove up the average because of new high-tech energy efficiency procedures.

The new provisions add more large apartment buildings to the list of residences that programs can weatherize if occupants of only 50 percent of the units qualify (down from 66 percent). They now exempt “large multi-family buildings” if weatherization would lead to “significant energy-efficiency improvement because of the upgrades to equipment, energy systems, common space, or the building shell.”

DOE intends to issue final rules later this year.

Suit filed over ergonomics
You may not have to comply with those new ergonomics rules after all. The National Propane Gas Association has joined other business groups and filed suit in U.S. Court of Appeals in Washington, DC to block enforcement of the Occupational Safety & Health Administration’s (OSHA) standards that took effect in January.

The rules require employers to protect workers from work-related musculoskeletal disorders. Phil Squair, NPGA director of regulatory affairs, says he expects the courts to merge NPGA’s suit with others, including cases filed by the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and National Association of Manufacturers.

NPGA specifically complains that OSHA failed to consider that seasonal workers – such as propane employees – face reduced risks of on-the-job repetitive strain injuries. “OSHA didn’t listen to us. That’s why we’re taking the action we’re taking,” Squair says.

Propane recalled for odorant
Two explosions causing four injuries have led to a recall for testing of propane in five Northwestern states. The U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission is working with Cenex Harvest States Cooperatives of Inver Grove Heights, Minn., on a voluntary recall. The problem: the propane may not have contained enough odorant to allow consumers to smell leaking gas. CHS refined the propane at its plant in Laurel, Mont.

The recall involves dealers in Idaho, Oregon, Washington, Montana and Wyoming. Business and residential consumers should contact their dealer for an on-site inspection or bring in small cylinders, such as barbecue grills, to dealers for inspection. Or call (800) 635-3998.

Safety data to be redone
The U.S. Chemical Safety & Hazard Investigation Board is scrapping its accident data program and starting anew.

The independent federal investigative board says that its own 1999 report on a decade of accident data doesn’t provide sufficient information to target prevention efforts. The preliminary study included reports of 600,000 accidents between 1987 and 1996. Upon closer examination, board staff found flaws in the data.

For instance, the transportation casualty reports didn’t indicate whether hazardous chemicals found at the site contributed to accidents, deaths, injuries or property destruction. The report also didn’t break down incidents by industry and chemical.

The board also stopped work on its accident baseline report based on the study. Instead, it will develop a five-year strategic plan for a system for chemical accident data collection and analysis. It is also planning to post an accident data directory page on its website.

Board spokesperson Bob Wager said he couldn’t say how much tax money went into the dropped study. The board plans a “stakeholder roundtable to discuss proposals for improving chemical accident data” sometime this year.

Drug and alcohol procedures
The Department of Transportation has issued new rules to clarify its Procedures for Workplace Drug & Alcohol Testing Program. The changes officially incorporate guidance DOT has issued since it started the program in 1988 and to allow use of updated technology and conform to changes in the testing business.

The cleaning up of the language has already taken effect. DOT will give business until Aug. 1 to comply, and promises to issue a new medical review officer manual and offer training sessions around the nation.

RSPA to combine forms
The Research & Special Programs Administration’s Office of Pipeline Safety (OPS) is merging its alcohol and drug reports onto the same form in an effort to cut red tape.

OPS reports that less than 1 percent of the pipeline industry workforce gets tested for drugs and alcohol. “It is reasonable to assume the problem exists in the pipeline industry as it does in society as a whole. The potential harmful effect of drug and alcohol abuse on safe pipeline operations warrants imposing comprehensive testing regulations on the pipeline industry.”

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