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EPA Urged to Update Wood Smoke Regs

Monday, October 14, 2013

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Seven Northern U.S. states are demanding that the federal government update its 25-year-old regulations on wood-burning heaters and devices—growing sources of air pollution as home heating costs rise.

The State Attorneys General of New York, Connecticut, Maryland, Massachusetts, Oregon, Rhode Island, and Vermont all joined in a federal-court complaint filed Wednesday (Oct. 9) against the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. Washington State's Puget Sound Clean Air Agency is also a plaintiff.

Alaska horizon

Alaskans and other Americans in cold-weather states are turning to wood-burning fireplaces and other devices as the cost of other home heating methods rises.

The suit, filed in U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia, accuses the EPA of violating the U.S. Clean Air Act by failing to review the existing standards and failing to limit air pollution emissions from the devices.

'Prompt' Action Sought

The states are seeking an injunction "requiring EPA to promptly propose and take final agency action on" regulating wood-burning devices, which generate particulate-matter pollution covered by the Clean Air Act's New Source Performance Standards.

Home chimney Wood stove  

Smoke from the nation's 29 million fireplaces and 123 million wood stoves contains several pollutants, including fine particulate matter (PM 2.5), carbon monoxide, and polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons.

The coalition contends that the EPA’s existing emissions limits, which haven’t been revised in 25 years, are outdated and leave out popular types of residential wood heaters—including outdoor wood boilers, which have proliferated in many northern states.

Americans are currently using more than 29 million fireplaces, 243,000 hydronic heaters, and 123 million wood stoves nationwide, the EPA estimates. Nearly two-thirds of the wood stoves are older, inefficient devices, EPA said.

Wood Smoke Dangers

The suit notes that wood smoke contains several pollutants, including fine particulate matter (PM 2.5), carbon monoxide, and polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons. (Federal air quality standards for PM 2.5 were tightened in December 2012.)

PM 2.5

Standards for airborne fine particulate matter (PM 2.5) were tightened in 2012. One old wood stove carries the PM 2.5 impact of five old diesel buses, according to EPA.

Earlier this year, the EPA released Strategies for Reducing Residential Wood Smoke, which describes some of the public health concerns with wood smoke.

"Residential wood smoke can increase particle pollution to levels that cause significant health concerns (e.g., asthma attacks, heart attacks, prematrure death)," the EPA report says.

"Wood smoke causes many counties throughout the U.S. to either exceed the national health-based standards for fine particles, or places them on the cusp of exceeding the standards."

It added: "Changing out one old, dirty, inefficient wood stove is equivalent to the PM2.5 pollution reduction of taking five old diesel buses off the road," EPA said.

Obsolete Standards

The suit says EPA continues to use "obsolete standards" developed in 1988 for such pollution.

Hydronic heater emissions

Wood boilers (also known as hydronic heaters) are exempt under current standards but produce a significant share of wood-burning emissions, the states contend.

The complaint also accuses EPA of ignoring its statutory mandate to review the pollution standard every eight years. In fact, the states say, the EPA has never reviewed the 1988 standard or, alternatively, made a determination that no review is needed.

In addition, the 1988 standards exempted indoor and outdoor wood boilers (also known as hydronic heaters), which have grown in use throughout the Northwest, Northeast and Midwest, the suit says.

EPA estimates that outdoor wood boilers will produce more than 20 percent of wood-burning emissions by 2017, the suit says.


Tagged categories: Air pollution control; Air quality; Building envelope; Building Envelope; Building owners; Emissions; Energy efficiency; EPA; Residential Construction

Comment from Zach Chittum, (10/14/2013, 3:51 AM)

Americans should have the right to burn wood in a stove to produce heat. They have been doing it since the beginning of time. Wood is a renewable source of energy. Epa needs to let this one go.

Comment from Mark Anater, (10/14/2013, 12:10 PM)

Burning is regulated in most places in the US, Zach, and for good reason. Uncontrolled or badly engineered burning is dangerous to life and property. In the days of yore there weren't many other sources of heat, and there were far fewer people using up wood and polluting the air. We don't remember the days when brown haze blanketed most cities from the wood and coal stoves, a large reason why the EPA and other agencies were created. This loophole needs to be addressed because it allows too many people to produce too much pollution, and that infringes on the community's "right" to a healthy environment.

Comment from John Fauth, (10/15/2013, 8:39 AM)

Mark, the EPA was created in large part because of wood and coal burning stoves? If that's the case, let's call their mandate fulfilled and send them all home! There is no end to "rights" that are made up as we go along. That's why the Federal government is restrained by a constitution that limits their authority to what is specifically enumerated. This was done for a purpose, because the Federal government does not have the "right" to manage every aspect of our lives... including wood burning stoves.

Comment from M. Halliwell, (10/15/2013, 10:45 AM)

It's a bit of a moot point, isn't it? With all the red tape the EPA has to go through to update guidelines, even if they made this their top priority once the shotdown is over, it'll be...what?...15 years? before they can get anything through the process? Personally, I don't know what's worse: the "pork barrel" politics in the US or the bureaucracy.

Comment from M. Halliwell, (10/15/2013, 10:47 AM)

(Yes, I know it's a shutdown....just sometimes it seems like "shotdown" is more appropriate. After all, this is of the government's own making.)

Comment from Mark Anater, (10/15/2013, 4:36 PM)

Once upon a time the federal government did not have the "right" to regulate the stock market, banking industry or hiring practices of private employers. I don't think anyone (except would-be insider traders and hardcore libertarians) would be happy with the results if those things went away. Lines are drawn and redrawn as new situations arise. When we refuse to let government put needed restraints on behaviors that are destructive, everyone suffers. As for the EPA, it was created to protect air, water and land from being made unhealthy by any number of sources, so this is clearly in their jurisdiction. They just haven't done anything about it.

Comment from John Fauth, (10/16/2013, 8:57 AM)

Mark, once upon a time there wasn't much interstate commerce. Owning stock in a company, or banking, was a local endeavor and governed by the states in which they resided. But once their business became interstate, the Federal government exercised its enumerated rights to regulate interstate commerce. The bottom line is, how much of a micro manager do you want the Federal government to be? I'm not sure about your company, but in ours we would consider executive management of light bulbs, toilet tank sizes, etc. to be a level of micro management that is unacceptable. My expectations are quite a bit higher for executives of the largest employer in the United States. Now that the EPA has classified CO2 as a pollutant, they can regulate your breathing. Is that level of micromanagement acceptable to you?

Comment from Mark Anater, (10/16/2013, 4:33 PM)

"It's always been this way, so why change it?" is a bad argument against regulation, just as "We can do it, so we should" is a bad argument in favor of regulation. Always there is tension between individual rights and collective action. We try to keep them in balance, but don't always succeed, and sometimes we can't even agree what "balance" is. It's the price we pay for democratic constitutional government. You may think that light bulbs, toilet tanks and wood-burning stoves are beneath the scope of federal regulation, but those who live with electrical, water or fuel shortages may disagree. For now they have won that argument, so you need to make a better counter-argument.

Comment from Andrew Piedl, (10/17/2013, 9:06 AM)

As soon as the letters 'EPA' are included in an article, you begin to spew the usual vitriol. Once again, you have shut your eyes, ears and mind and started the chant so often repeated in the halls and on the air waves. The fact that this attempt to regulate has been initiated at the state level has not even impinged upon the grey matter within your head. The real problem is the smoke. Why don't you stop making up history and fact and retire?

Comment from John Fauth, (10/17/2013, 9:28 AM)

Mark, your "they have won that argument" statement is the functional equivalent of the "It's always been this way" concept that was disregarded in your opening sentence. I think my point is, there is no constitutional government if the constitution doesn't mean anything... or if Federal agencies have the option of ignoring it. As for the electrical, water or fuel shortages you mentioned... if states want to restrict construction of power plants and drilling for resources, then they can live with the consequences of paying high prices from companies within states or countries that produce excess. No less is produced or expended... only the origin of production changes (and the cost).

Comment from Jay Barstow, (10/17/2013, 10:14 AM)

Ah yes (Hi John) .... I find it ironic that the same government, by zealously suppressing minor forest fires and thus creating the conditions leading to raging infernos releasing gazillions of tons of particulates, can chastise a person for heating with renewable resources because regulations lead to higher energy costs! I'm all for (effective) low cost toilets, energy efficient lighting, high mileage (high performance) automobiles, and efficient wood burning stoves, but I believe the way to do so is to inform the consumer of what it means to his pocketbook, even if it means educating children in school of how to create and follow a budget (and the benefits thereof!)A more efficient stove burns less wood, less wood means either less cost and/or less work. I've been in homes where there was no electricity and wood was the only heat source available, their hi-tech fireplace had a sheet of galvanized roofing behind the grate to reflect the heat. You think that given the CHOICE they wouldn't go for a more efficient heat source? But try to FORCE them, you'll be talking to the business end of a shotgun. And don't try saying that we have innovation only through regulation, that's an insult!

Comment from William Feliciano, (10/18/2013, 8:59 AM)

I apologize for seeming rather shallow and ill-informed comment here, but when I first read the article the first thing that popped into my mind was the thought that these lawsuits might be driven by the jealousy and greed of the utility companies. I couldn't imagine how so many people in so many states could - simultaneously - decide to sue the EPA over something as ubiquitous as wood burning stoves. A concerted, well funded lobbying effort by utility companies across several states, well - that seems more plausible to me. I live in a city where natural gas is plentiful, and most of us use it for heat. When I drive into the surrounding country, I see lots of folks using the wood burning outdoor boilers. I would never complain against them because they are not "affecting me", and they wouldn't complain against each other as neighbors because they are all in "the same boat" so to speak. So it begs the question: what is driving the Attorney Generals within the states to stir up this dust?

Comment from John Fauth, (10/18/2013, 9:08 AM)

Jay, you've hit the nail on the head. The inference of over reaching government is that free people are not smart enough to make good choices, and consequently the choice must be made for them and forced upon them.

Comment from John Fauth, (10/18/2013, 9:11 AM)

William, I don't know who may have been orchestrating these suits, but I'd be willing to bet my morning coffee that it was more likely environmentalist groups rather than utilities. Just a guess, of course.

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