As the state of Missouri fights against the Environmental Protection Agency’s long-awaited pollution regulations for new wood-burning stoves, a flame has been sparked in the conservative blogosphere. Missouri, they say, is correct to fight. “When Barack Obama’s EPA arrogantly moves to make every wood burning stove in America illegal,” the blog Right Wing News wrote on Monday, “he’s basically saying to those people, ‘You can go ahead and freeze for all I care.’”
With 12 million wood stoves currently being used to heat homes across the country, a nationwide ban on them would indeed be cause for concern. Except that’s not what’s actually happening.
What’s actually happening is this. After waiting 25 years to propose new efficiency rules for wood-burning heaters, the EPA in January finally released standards that would require all new devices to burn 80 percent cleaner than those manufactured today. Currently, all 12 million wood-burning heaters in the U.S. only have to comply with pollution standards set in 1988. Out of those 12 million regulated stoves, 9 million are older, less efficient, non-EPA-certified stoves. So-called “pellet stoves” that burn compressed wood or biomass are not currently covered by any federal regulation.
Emissions from those wood-burning devices currently account for 13 percent of all soot pollution in the nation, according to EPA estimates. But the issue has been extremely sensitive to regulate. Lawmakers in the mostly-rural areas that use wood-burning stoves have scowled at the idea of increased regulations, saying the idea “comes against American values and traditions.”
So, as part of the long-awaited compromise, the new EPA regulations do not affect wood-burning heaters that are currently being used. “If Americans like the wood stove they have now, can they keep it? Period?” Rep. Thomas Massey (R-KY) asked EPA Gina McCarthy at a November hearing before the proposed regulations were introduced. McCarthy confirmed that they would not — and they do not.
“The proposed rule would not affect existing woodstoves and other wood-burning heaters currently in use in people’s homes,” the EPA says. “The proposal also would not apply to new or existing heaters that are fueled solely by oil, gas or coal, and it would not apply to outdoor fireplaces, fire pits, pizza ovens or chimineas.”
Still, opponents of the EPA’s proposed regulation insist that the rules would, in effect, ban wood stoves. The Missouri Legislature recently proposed legislation that would symbolically declare that “all Missourians have a right to heat their homes and businesses” with various wood-burning heaters, and has proposed to ban state environmental officials from regulating residential wood heaters unless authorized by the Legislature. That legislation is necessary because the new EPA regulations mean “the death knoll of any wood burning,” Reg Kelly, the founder of Earth Outdoor Furnaces in Mountain Grove, reportedly told Missouri lawmakers at a recent hearing. “There’s not a stove in the United States that can pass the test right now.”
The whole point of the EPA’s proposed regulations, however, is that there are not currently stoves that pass the emissions test. That is why the rules would take time to implement — to give manufacturers time to comply. The rules would, if approved, officially go into effect in 2015. They would become stricter again after five years.
Manufacturers of wood stoves would likely have to spend more money to comply with the standards, meaning the price of new, efficient wood-burning stoves might increase. But according to EPA estimates, the overall economic effect would be beneficial — and would come directly from savings to the American health care system. For every dollar spent to comply with the new standards, the EPA says, 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. In other words, for every dollar spent to comply, America will see fewer heart attacks, strokes, and asthma attacks — and less CO2, methane and black carbon emissions.
But, unless they decide they’d like to replace them voluntarily, Americans will not see fewer wood stoves. Hopefully just better ones.