Woodstove Rules Draw Criticism, Praise

Tighter limits on wood-burning heating appliances are designed to improve air quality and human health. But industry representatives worry that the tighter restrictions will make the cost of new stoves prohibitively high.

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The Environmental Protection Agency’s proposed new restrictions on emissions from wood-burning stoves have garnered praise and criticism from a variety of health, manufacturing and small business organizations.

The proposed rules, which will reduce allowable emissions for many new woodstoves, could have a bigger impact in rural areas, which burn up to twice as much wood for heat as metropolitan areas, according to a George Mason University report.

The American Lung Association and the Alliance for Green Heat support the tighter restrictions, reports Jim Gillam in the Chimney Sweep News, an industry publication. The Lung Association says the changes will help protect the environment and human health.

“The EPA set the current standards for wood-burning devices in 1988,” the Lung Association states, according to Gilliam, “years before the first of the landmark studies that demonstrated that particles like those that make up wood smoke can be deadly.  Improved technologies in use today can greatly reduce the harmful pollution from these devices.”

But the claim that the tighter standards will improve human health doesn’t take into account that most wood for heat gets burned in rural areas, says Stonehill College economics professor Sean Mulholland.

“If a tree burns in the forest and no one’s there to breathe the smoke, does this reduce human health?” he writes in a U.S. News and World Report online opinion piece.

“Because most of the emissions reductions will take place in rural areas with low population densities, the [EPA] rule overestimates total health benefits realized by averaging these reductions across all U.S. residents,” Mulholland writes. “So a reduction in particulates in the rural community of Forest City, Maine, has the same estimated value as a reduction in the densely-populated urban city of Oakland, California.”

A wood-stove industry spokesperson said the tighter restrictions will hurt small businesses, reports Chimney Sweep News, an industry publication

“This is an industry populated overwhelmingly by small businesses,” said Jack Goldman, president and CEO of the Hearth, Patio & Barbecue Association at an EPA hearing.   “All but a handful of our manufacturers qualify as a small business.  Because our industry’s health is very closely tied to new home building and remodeling, these businesses are just beginning to emerge from a horrendous recession.  They are in no position to invest the relatively huge amounts that this proposal will require for research, testing, certification, and retooling plants.”

But others say the wood-stove industry is overstating the potential economic harm of the new regulation.

“Despite what some industry members say, these regulations will be good for consumers’ health and pocketbooks, and make wood heating much more sustainable in the long run,” wrote John Ackerly, president of the Alliance for Green Heat, on the group’s Facebook page.  “Few people argue that the 1988 regulations were bad for consumers, and in five years, few will argue that these were.  Cleaner, higher efficiency appliances will end up selling much better, even if they are a little more expensive, because fuel savings in any appliance always outweigh a bump in purchase price.”

Maine Senators Susan Collins (Republican) and Angus King (Independent) said the rule would have the unintended effect of encouraging woodstove owners to keep their old, dirtier models operating longer.

“Rather than reduce harmful emissions, the new standards would make it prohibitively expensive for many homeowners to purchase new, more efficient stoves,” they wrote in a letter to EPA Administrator Gina McCarthy. “Results of a 2008 study in Maine showed 77 percent of respondents had woodstoves over 24 years old. …  It would be appropriate … for EPA to consider, as part of this rule, implementing incentives that would encourage homeowners to remove their old stoves.  Greater emission reductions would be realized with such an approach.”

Senator John Thune (Republican) of South Dakota, also writing to EPA Administrator McCarthy, stated, “The rule would have a disproportionate impact on South Dakota families who rely on wood stoves to heat their homes.  … With the recent propane shortage throughout South Dakota and many areas of the country, the last thing the EPA should be doing is making it harder and more expensive for families to heat their homes.”

The proposed rule will lower the emissions standard for all new woodstoves to 4.5 grams per hour of operations, according to Chimney Sweep News. The standard is currently 7.5 grams per hours for stoves without catalytic converters and 4.1 for catalytic stoves. The new standard will not differentiate between the two types of stoves.

Five to eight years after the new rule is implemented, the standard would drop to 1.3 grams per hour.

Comments on the proposed rule were closed in May. The EPA is now considering the comments and is not expected to issue a new rule until next year.

Portions of the article were drawn, with permission, from the Chimney Sweep News.

 

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