The Fairbanks North Star Borough in Alaska has some of the worst airborne particle pollution in the country, most of which comes from wood burning stoves.
New York—the second largest consumer of wood for heating—says that fine particle pollution from wood stoves pollution outstrips power plants and cars’ pollution combined. Wood stoves cause more than half of the winter particle pollution in Sacramento County, Calif.
Those states and others are pushing back on an EPA proposal that would give stove makers an additional two years to sell off older, more polluting models before they have to meet tighter federal standards for fine airborne particulates found in smoke.
Those older stoves will be in use for 20 or 30 years, which would “essentially lock in poor performance from these stoves for an entire generation,” Richard Whitman, director of Oregon Department of Environmental Quality, told the Environmental Protection Agency in comments on its proposal to extend the sale of older stoves.
Comments on the proposal closed Jan. 14.
EPA’s Wood Stove Two-Step
The problem facing wood-heater manufacturers is that the EPA in March 2015 issued a two-step regulatory program to impose increasingly stringent standards to reduce pollution.
The manufacturers met the initial standard by the end of 2015, but they were left with stocks of those appliances as they worked toward more stringent standards taking effect in May 2020.
Small businesses and retailers would lose money if they aren’t given enough time to sell off the stock meeting the first step of the standards, stove makers said.
“The two-year sell-through would thus restore the necessary cash flow to manufacturers and therefore give them the full benefit of the crucial five-year lead time,” the Hearth, Patio, & Barbecue Association told the EPA.
The association, which represents the wood stove industry, paused its legal challenge to the 2015 wood stove standards when EPA in November decided to revisit the regulation.
States Counting on Rules
But the EPA’s proposal is facing pushback from states arguing that the tighter controls are needed to eventually meet federal standards for airborne particle pollution, which can aggravate asthma, trigger heart attacks, and even cause premature death.
Although Alaska set its own wood stove standards in 2014, the nation’s largest state told the EPA it was relying on the federal standards to meet the air quality limits.
Because of controls on wood combustion, Sacramento County now records levels below the federal air quality standard for particle pollution, Melanie Turner, spokeswoman for the California Air Resources Board, told Bloomberg Environment. However, “they do risk falling out of attainment without the controls placed on wood stoves,” she said.
By the time the standards fully take effect, stove makers will have had five years to prepare, states argued.
As of October 2018, the EPA’s own data shows that at least 99 heater models—17 percent—are meeting the new, tougher standards. The extra two years would save wood stove makers $10 million while costing the public between $90 million and $230 million in health benefits, California and New York argued.
The attorneys general for New York, Maryland, Massachusetts, Minnesota, Oregon, Vermont, and Washington, warned the federal agency that their plan is unlawful because it has no basis in the Clean Air Act.
Specifically, they wrote that nothing in the Clean Air Act allows the EPA to issue new source performance standards and then permit manufacturers to continue to sell noncompliant devices after the standard takes effect.
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