The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency on Friday released proposed long-awaited pollution standards that would require all new wood-powered stoves and heaters to burn 80 percent cleaner than those manufactured today.
The rules — which would cover new woodstoves, fireplace inserts, hydronic heaters, forced air furnaces, and masonry heaters — would officially go into effect in 2015 and become stricter after five years, the EPA said. Forcing companies to make cleaner-burning wood heaters will have a significant effect on the environment and human health, according to the agency, which recently estimated that emissions from wood-burning devices account for 13 percent of all soot pollution in the nation.
“Smoke from residential wood heaters, which are used around the clock in some communities, can increase toxic air pollution, volatile organic compounds, carbon monoxide and soot … to levels that pose serious health concerns,” the EPA said in a statement, adding that particle pollution is linked heart attacks, strokes, and asthma attacks.
The agency estimates that for every dollar spent to comply with the new standards, Americans will see between $118 and $267 in health benefits — eventually adding up to $1.8 to $2.4 billion in annual health and economic benefits.
The EPA identifies approximately 12 million wood stoves — 9 million of which are older, less efficient, non-EPA-certified stoves — in use in the United States today. But some lawmakers have scowled at the idea of increased regulations on them. Rep. Thomas Massey (R-KY) in particular has questioned the need, saying smog and other air pollution is most a function of “urban concentration.”
“Residents of rural areas like myself who rely on wood heat as an affordable abundant, renewable, and — you’ll like this — carbon neutral source of heat energy, are perpetually perplexed by the EPA’s fascination with regulating this form of heat since it’s primarily a rural form of heat,” Massey said at a November 14 hearing on accountability at the EPA. “We believe that a one-size fits all rule on wood heat that comes from Washington D.C., from bureaucrats who have never experienced the warmth of the heat that comes from wood or maybe even the exercise of collecting it themselves, really aren’t qualified to regulate our source of energy, especially when they’re taking away our other forms of energy.”
Indeed, the EPA had waited 25 years to propose updated efficiency rules for wood heaters, despite requirements under the Clean Air Act for the agency to update the standards every eight years — meaning the 1988 standard should have been updated beginning in 1996. The American Lung Association and seven states had recently filed lawsuist against the EPA to force it to update the 25-year-old standards, saying the agency’s failure to do so has caused the installation of thousands of new wood-burning boilers, furnaces and stoves each year that produce dangerous air pollution.
The proposed rule will now cover so-called “pellet stoves” that burn compressed wood or biomass, which were not covered at all under the 1988 rule. Though some manufacturers were certified under the 1988 standards, others avoided EPA certification through an exemption for wood stoves that have an air to fuel ratio of less than 35 to 1. The Alliance for Green Heat told Biomass Magazine in July that the fact that pellet stoves were not included in the standard meant that a whole class of stoves were avoiding EPA regulation through a loophole designed for fireplaces.
At the November EPA hearing, Massey asked EPA Administrator Gina McCarthy to promise that new regulations would only apply to new, not existing, wood stoves (“If Americans like the wood stove they have now, can they keep it? Period?”) which is reflected in the rules proposed Friday. However, the EPA does recommend replacing old wood stoves, saying improved combustion efficiency can reduce CO2, methane and black carbon emissions.