Top business group tracks regulators’ brick industry “dismantling”

Source: U.S. Chamber of Commerce, Washington, D.C.

A Chamber of Commerce report, “Regulatory Indifference Hurts Vulnerable Communities,” looks at the significant negative impacts of the Environmental Protection Agency’s new air toxics standard, or Brick MACT rule, and Occupational Safety and Health Administration’s proposed revisions to the silica permissible exposure limit (PEL) on American brick makers. Concurrent compliance measures will cost producers millions, authors contend, and devastate a threatened industry in which 75 percent of companies are small businesses.

“Bureaucrats in Washington walk down Pennsylvania Avenue on bricks made by small, family-owned businesses without care for the companies and workers being destroyed by their careless regulations,” says Chamber Senior Vice President of Environment, Technology and Regulatory Affairs William Kovacs. “This report shows that it’s not just the large rules that affect American industry. With access to funding difficult for so many, even relatively obscure regulations can force small manufacturers to shutter their operations. An increasingly complex web of regulations is making it almost impossible for small businesses to survive.”

“For workers in local communities, particularly those employed by small businesses, new regulations developed using a ‘one size fits all’ model are a big problem,” notes Janet Whitacre Kaboth, chief executive officer of Whitacre Greer Co., which has manufactured clay products in northeastern Ohio since 1916. “Federal agencies cannot simply assume that companies can afford to comply with regulatory requirements; that companies will be able to comply; or that the benefits of a rule will make it worthwhile. They need to understand the local impacts of their rule on real people whose lives may be ruined by losing their job.”

When finalizing the current Brick MACT rule in 2015, EPA marked a second round of stricter requirements on the brick industry in 10 years. Producers incurred over $100 million in capital and operating costs to comply with the vacated 2003 Brick MACT. To comply with the new rule, some of the same companies will need to install new control devices with about a $2.2 million/kiln price tag.

The Brick Industry Association estimates that the Brick MACT rule could cost $100 million per year or more and that compliance will be impossible for many small plants. The 147 pounds of emitted mercury the rule is expected to reduce nationally is about 1/400th the amount of the metal now reported by the EPA to be in dental fillings in the mouths of millions of Americans.

At the same time, OSHA estimates that compliance with the proposed silica regulation calls for installation of engineering controls and other items requiring an investment just north of $900,000 per brick company in the first year. The agency has acknowledged that raw materials used in making bricks do not represent a significant cause for silicosis, but OSHA has done nothing to adjust the burden for plants.

“These economically harmful regulations could be avoided if EPA conducted the type of in-depth employment analyses required of them,” Kovacs contends. “When crafting regulations, federal agencies should consider the impact to workers, businesses, and local communities, and balance those effects with public health and safety. One plant closing can set off a chain reaction in a small town.”

The Chamber is calling on Congress to pass the Regulatory Accountability Act of 2015, which would improve the transparency of regulations by requiring agencies to invest more effort earlier in the rulemaking process to gather data, evaluate alternatives, and receive public input about proposed measures’ costs and benefits. “Regulatory Indifference Hurts Vulnerable Communities,” with case studies from brick plants in Alliance and Sugarcreek, Ohio; Gleason, Tenn.; Martinsburg, W.Va.; and Selma, Ala., is posted at