Recently, I had the pleasure of attending PHCC’s Legislative Conference in Washington DC. While I have attended similar advocacy events in the past for manufacturers and distributors of HVACR products, this was my first congressional fly-in event for the plumbing, heating and cooling contractor.

Many of the issues PHCC’s members were discussing were familiar — repealing the estate tax, relieving regulatory burden, completing tax reform, etc. — but the focus was, of course, on the installer and consumer, both of whom often bear a disproportionate amount of the financial brunt of changes in things like vehicle fuel economy standards, health care costs under the Affordable Care Act, tax credits for certain energy technologies (which can help make or break a sale), and more.


A direct impact

For better or worse, the DOE, EPA, and other federal agencies are tasked with churning out regulations on everything from water heaters and faucets to fleet vehicles and boilers.

The first day of PHCC’s two-day Legislative Conference included a legislative and regulatory briefing during which George Washington University Senior Policy Analyst Sofie E. Miller spoke candidly about some of the standards and regulations put forth by federal agencies and how they are directly affecting any plumber in the market for, for example, new work trucks, which recently became subject to new average fuel economy standards that are already driving up vehicle costs.

“The [government] agencies predicted price increases between $520 and $1,360 for vans and pickups and up to $2,700 for vocational vehicles, but they also predicted fuel savings,” Miller said, noting that the savings in fuel costs often eventually offset the increased cost of the vehicle. “But, if these standards were a win-win-win, why did you need to mandate them? There are a lot of standards that do end up burdening consumers.”

Unfortunately, end users often do not get a fair say in these regulations, though organizations like PHCC are working to change that.


The importance of advocacy

One of the biggest problems with the rulemaking process, which many PHCC members brought up to their legislators during the conference, is the fact that the DOE and EPA have a track record of not always taking all input into account when promulgating new regulations and standards.

To give plumbing, heating and cooling contractors a voice in Washington, PHCC is working with its members to keep lawmakers informed about the issues that impact PHCC’s members. Chuck White, PHCC’s vice president of regulatory affairs, called for improvements in the rulemaking process that would help make sure all input is heard and taken into consideration.

“There’s an overall lack of transparency where certain segments have a more direct window, a better look into, the development process than manufacturers and installers,” White said during the Legislative Conference. “We’d like more transparency. We’d like to be involved from the beginning — not at the end where we’re arguing about a couple decimal points, but at the beginning.”

PHCC and other organizations are advocating for the industry’s best interests, but perhaps nothing is more effective than when a business owner interacts directly with their own U.S. representatives and/or senators and explains to them how certain regulations have helped or hindered their business — or perhaps even created or destroyed jobs in these legislators’ own districts.

The onus, then, is left on the contractor to ensure legislators know exactly how different regulations and legislation directly affect their constituents. And, based on what I saw on the Hill, you have more power than you think to affect change.