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July/August 2002 

     In the News . . .    

Legal
Home Depot Pays Largest Fine Ever Under Michigan Item Pricing Act

Home Depot agreed to pay up to $500,000 for alleged violations of a Michigan law requiring price tags on most individual items, the state attorney general Jennifer M. Granholm said recently, reported the Associated Press (AP).

A survey of 14 Home Depot stores completed in January found that up to 55 percent of items lacked individual price tags, according to the AP.

The company will pay $500,000 in civil penalties. Half will be payable within 30 days; the rest will be waived in 2004 if state inspectors find that Home Depot has complied with the agreement to comply with the law, said the AP. 

The company will also pay the State of Michigan $25,000 to reimburse it for its legal, investigative and administrative expenses, Granholm said.

“Michigan’s item pricing law continues to protect consumers’ pocketbooks everyday. The settlement is proof that the item pricing law works: consumers complained to our office when they couldn’t find prices; we took their complaints to the company, and the company agreed to work harder for its customers,” said Granholm.

As part of the formal legal agreement called an Assurance of Discontinuance, Home Depot has agreed to make certain that enough staff, equipment and signage is available in each store to ensure compliance with the Michigan Item Pricing Act. The retailer will also install in-store price auditors at each of its stores in Michigan to conduct weekly audits of items to make sure prices are clearly marked on items as required by the law.

In cases of drywall, lumber, paneling and other specialized procedures, the company may provide consumers with an order sheet that clearly lists products and specific prices.

Home Depot issued a statement saying it “looks forward to serving the home improvement needs of Michigan consumers.”

“Home Depot has made a long-term commitment to better serve its customers, and that commitment is to be applauded. The company’s actions in the future to maintain that commitment, however, will be the truest test of its promise to its consumers,” said Granholm.

The Assurance of Discontinuance comes in response to a Notice of Intended Action filed by the Michigan attorney general in March. This was the fourth time the office of Michigan’s attorney general has had to take legal action against the company, including a formal lawsuit in 1997, to bring them into compliance with state law.

Lawsuit Filed Against Georgia-Pacific
A lawsuit has been filed in a Federal Court of Claims that lumber company Georgia-Pacific Corp. exposed customers to arsenic in its products reported the Associated Press (AP).

The suit filed [recently] claims that Georgia-Pacific sells treated lumber containing chromate copper arsenate, or CCA, concealing the danger of the human carcinogen to customers.

CCA is a powerful pesticide used to protect lumber from decay and insect damage for use in playgrounds, decks and picnic tables (see related article "Not Fit for a Wood Chuck").

The plaintiff named in the suit is Alabama state trooper Kevin Beasley, who claims he became seriously ill after handling CCA-treated wood while building a deck in May.

The suit seeks class-action status and unspecified compensatory and punitive damages, said the AP.
Georgia-Pacific spokesperson Robin Keegan said the company is reviewing the lawsuit and could not comment.

                                                              KUDOS
Local Pella Window & Door Store Wins Better Business Bureau Award
Pella Windows & Doors—Twin Cities Inc., headquartered in Plymouth, Minn., was recently honored by the Better Business Bureau of Minnesota and North Dakota with the 2002 Integrity Award in the large-company category.

The Better Business Bureau Integrity Award honors companies that practice high ethical standards of behavior toward customers, suppliers, shareholders, employees and the communities in which they do business. An anonymous community member nominated the Pella sales branch for this award. Following the nomination, Pella Windows & Doors—Twin Cities Inc., was selected as an award winner based on answers provided in the competition’s application process.

According to Randy Linn, principal of Pella—Twin Cities, he and his associates strive to maintain the highest ethical standards in all aspects of business operations through top-notch customer service.


Partnerships
WDMA Signs Agreement with Euro Windoor
The WDMA recently announced that it has signed an agreement with Euro Windoor. In this agreement both organizations have agreed to exchange information on market trends for windows, doors and similar products as well as share public design and installation technology information. The organizations have also agreed to provide information on standards, voluntary specifications and other technical know-how. To exchange information, the organizations plan to use appropriate means such as correspondence and personal visits, said the WDMA.

Lumber
Chicano Citizens Protest NAWLA Annual Meeting
“Citizens from Chicano communities joined environmentalists and labor leaders to condemn the North American Wholesale Lumber Association (NAWLA) in peaceful protest outside its 110th annual meeting,” stated a recent release from ForestEthics and CU Rainforest Action Group.

“Around the world, logging is destroying endangered forests, tree farms are driving indigenous people off their lands and huge timber corporations are cutting costs by exploiting their workers. NAWLA and its members are profiteering on the traffic in wood products that supports these abuses. When consumers find out about this, NAWLA’s members will face market campaigns like the one that pressured eight of the biggest do-it-yourself stores, including Home Depot, to change their purchasing policies,” said Aaron Anger of ForestEthics.

“NAWLA has been using its influence to promote wood products from the tree farm companies taking the land of La Gente in Chile,” said Shirley Otero, heir to the Sangre de Cristo Land Grant and a native of San Luis, Colo. “And they need to realize that they can no longer keep the environmentalists and the Chicano community apart. We have made the connections between the environmental issues and our struggle to fight for our land.”

When asked to comment on the protest and the arguments made in the ForestEthics and CU Rainforest Action Group release, Benjamin A. Stephens, NAWLA’s director of information, referred to a release the NAWLA provided members press that were present at the meeting.

“While NAWLA has obvious philosophical differences with the groups protesting the 110th NAWLA annual meeting, we respectfully acknowledge they have every right to make their voices heard. We do not feel the environment—or our members—would benefit from these groups’ active participation in the event. However, we have offered to facilitate a dialogue between our members and these groups in the near future. We sincerely hope they will take this unique opportunity to meet with our members,” said the NAWLA.

Southern Pine Accusation Warps the Facts Officials Say
Comments attributed to Canadian officials that allege Southern pine “warps too easily” have no basis in fact, according to Southern pine lumber producers.

The comments appeared in an Associated Press (AP) story filed March 22, which reported the U.S. government’s imposition of stiff import duties on Canadian lumber. In the AP story, unnamed officials claim that Canadian lumber “… can’t be replaced by a prominent U.S. product, Southern yellow pine, because that wood warps too easily.”

“Attempting to malign Southern pine lumber is not going to solve this trade dispute,” said Karl Lindberg, president of the Southern Forest Products Association of Kenner, La. “Their statement is unfounded, with no basis in fact. All lumber will warp under given conditions.”

In other Southern pine news, the Southern Pine Council (SPC) has launched a proactive marketing initiative to position Southern pine as the “species of choice” in all treated-lumber markets, regardless of treatment type, said the council.

Using various media, SPC plans to reach key target audiences, including retailers, builders, design/build professionals, as well as consumer groups.

“As the treating industry transforms, treated Southern pine will continue to be a superior product, readily available to consumers,” said Dave Mason, SPC’s director of treated markets. “SPC is excited about the opportunity to further educate consumers and the building trade about the many advantages of treated Southern pine.” (See related article on treated lumber, "Not Fit for a Wood Chuck").

Energy-Efficiency Debate 
DOE Listens to Industry; Withdraws ENERGY STAR Proposal
While some people in the industry may think their voice is not always heard, a recent move by the Department of Energy (DOE) may prove them wrong. 

When the DOE proposed its new criteria for ENERGY STAR® windows, doors and skylights on May 8, 2002, many in the industry who were unhappy with the proposal flooded the DOE with comments. This prompted the DOE to withdraw its proposal on June 28, 2002, and maintain the current criteria, according to David K. Garman, assistant secretary, energy efficiency and renewable energy. 

“We received numerous insightful comments, including some alternative proposals, that warrant serious consideration,” said Garman. “By withdrawing the proposal, I hope to avoid confusion in the marketplace and avoid our partners making premature investments in product or marketing plans.”

“This was a valid decision,” said Pilkington’s Paul Gore. “The proposed criteria would have virtually eliminated high-solar-heat-gain low-E products from being sold in the marketplace (generally produced by the pyrolitic process).”

So why did the DOE decide to withdraw its proposal now, rather than not introducing it in the first place? According to Gore, an increased amount of people in the industry voiced their concerns once the proposal was introduced on May 8. “The volume was really turned up,” said Gore. “A lot of people even copied their elected officials on letters.”

The DOE says it has received various alternate proposals from the industry, including one from Pilkington. Gore says this proposal is modified slightly from the one the company introduced earlier this year. The new proposal divides the Central region into a Northern Central and a Southern Central region. “The climates are different in New York City and Phoenix,” said Gore. “The current proposal says one performance parameter works for both locations.

“We believe our proposal is valid and that it actually saves more energy than the DOE’s original proposal,” Gore added. 

According to Garman, a new proposal will be subject to public review and comment. “While I cannot assign a timeline to this process, it is clear we will incur a significant delay beyond the January 1, 2003, implementation date we had hoped to achieve,” he said. 

Just so the mistakes of the past are not repeated Siegel suggests that prior to the DOE’s introduction of the new proposal, it should suggest a process for evaluating the various proposals; one that the industry can make comments on even before the new proposal is introduced. “This would make sure they cover everything and that the process is objective,” said Siegel. For example, he said that the DOE should have compared the energy performance impacts of the various proposals to the current ENERGY STAR requirements, instead of to 1998 distribution sales as was the case. 

Although the withdrawl means that introduction of the new ENERGY STAR criteria will be delayed, the industry would rather have a sound proposal than one with which most are unhappy. “We want to make sure the new proposal is analyzed and evaluated fully,” said Gore. 


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