Sheer Delight- Gil Elvgren 1948
It's not enough that the Environmental Protection Agency has launched an all-out assault on the coal industry- now the EPA has designs on homeowner's woodstoves, fireplaces or pellet stoves.
A federal proposal to clean up the smoke wafting from wood-burning stoves has sparked a backlash from some rural residents, lawmakers and manufacturers who fear it could close the damper on one of the oldest ways of warming homes on cold winter days.
Proposed regulations from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency would significantly reduce the amount of particle pollution allowed from the smokestacks of new residential wood-powered heaters.
Wood-burning stoves are a staple in rural homes in many states, a cheap heating source for low-income residents and others wanting to lessen their reliance on gas or electric furnaces. Outdoor models often cost several thousand dollars, but indoor stoves can cost as little as a few hundred dollars and sometimes double as fashionable centerpieces in homes.
Some manufacturers contend the EPA’s proposed standards are so stringent that the higher production costs would either force them out of business or raise prices so high that many consumers could no longer afford their products.
"There’s not a stove in the United States that can pass the test right now — this is the death knell of any wood burning,” Reg Kelly, the founder of Earth Outdoor Furnaces in Mountain Grove, told Missouri lawmakers during a recent hearing.
More than three dozen Missouri lawmakers have co-sponsored a bill that would symbolically fight back against the EPA by declaring that “All Missourians have a right to heat their homes and businesses using wood-burning furnaces, stoves, fireplaces and heaters."
This past week, a Missouri House committee endorsed a revised measure that proposes to ban state environmental officials from regulating residential wood heaters unless authorized by the Legislature.
Missouri appears to be one the first states to introduce legislation in response to the proposed EPA regulations. But concerns over wood stove pollution and regulations also have been simmering in other states, including Utah and Alaska.
There are about 12 million wood stoves in U.S. homes, including about 9 million that are less than half as efficient as the newer stoves, according to the EPA. The agency’s proposed rules would not affect stoves already in homes.
Most people who own wood stoves have other means of heat, such as electric or gas furnaces. But about 2 percent U.S. homes rely on wood as their primary heating source — a figure that has been rising over the past decade.
I can speak with some firsthand experience- if there's a prolonged, days-long blackout with freezing temperatures, an old fashioned woodstove or fireplace can seem like a godsend. With the eastern US getting walloped by waves of massive winter storms that have knocked down trees and power lines only a few weeks into 2014, a fireplace or woodstove along with a supply of firewood pays dividends.
There is no public hearings on the EPA's proposed revision of regulations for woodstoves and fireplaces, although the agency is accepting public comments through 90 days after their Jan 3rd publication.
Manufacturers have expressed concern that the new EPA regulations would drive up prices and make woodstoves unaffordable for most consumers.
Watson is president of Jotul North America, a wood stove manufacturer founded in Maine in 1980. Its 70 employees manufacture hundreds of cast-iron stoves each year at its facility in Gorham, where it has been located since 2005. Jotul’s stoves already far exceed the current emission standards, which were established by the EPA in 1988, Watson said.
Watson estimates it will cost the company $1 million to re-engineer its product lines and update its testing capabilities to meet the new standard, which because of variability in stove testing he thinks will result in a “statistically insignificant” change in the emissions compared to Jotul’s current stoves.
That cost will be passed onto stove dealers and consumers, resulting in prices for new Jotul stoves to increase by as much as 25 percent, or an additional $300-$500 per stove depending on the model, Watson estimates. Based on this economy and his understanding of supply and demand, he said he’d expect to see his sales fall as a result. Overall, there were roughly 4,500 wood stoves sold in Maine in 2012, according to industry figures cited by Watson.
“When you’re a manufacturer, to cough up $1 million and increase the cost of your stoves’ retail prices by 25 percent — that payback is going to be really tough to digest if sales of wood stoves go down because of that increased cost,” he told the Bangor Daily News on Friday.
That will end up having the opposite effect of what the EPA wants, which is more people to adopt new, cleaner-burning stoves.
Critics also point out that regardless of what sport of new regulations the EPA passes, stoves would still have inappropriate fuel such as garbage or wood from younger trees that would cause even more pollution that what the EPA seeks to abate with these new rules. Even pellet stoves, which have been touted as more versatile and efficient than woodstoves, are suffering from a shortage of fuel in northern New England.