WASHINGTON — Colorado has been a leader in reducing air pollution caused by wood burning stoves, but new rules proposed by the Environmental Protection Agency threatens to roll back those advancements, critics say.
The regulations are scheduled to take effect in 2015 and would affect home woodstoves, wood-fired heaters, wood-pellet stoves, fireplace inserts and masonry heaters, as well as forced air wood furnaces manufactured after that date.
The EPA maintains that their proposal to mandate different design elements would reduce particle emissions in new stoves, but industry leaders contend the science behind the plan is faulty, and while there would be no significant reduction in pollution the cost of manufacturing the stoves would increase.
And. raising prices would defeat the previous goal to reduce air pollution by convincing the millions of consumers still using stoves manufactured before any air standards were mandated to trade those in for pollution reducing products already on the market.
The bulk of wood stoves in use, about six million, predate the certification process, while less than 100,000 new or replacement stoves are sold every year, said John Crouch, director of public affairs for the Hearth, Patio and Barbecue Association.
“This regulation nibbles on the edge of the woodstove issue,” Crouch said.
The association does not oppose revising the regulations that were written in 1988.
“That needs to be updated and fixed,” Crouch said.
But manufacturers are concerned the new rules will be costly and take a heavy toll on small businesses, while producing a new stove that is only marginally different.
“In Vail and Telluride, people are used to wood heat, changing out to a cleaner stove is much more important,” Crouch said.
“If the new stoves cost quite a bit more, is that consumer more, or less likely to change it out?” Crouch asked.
“This is the struggle we have,” Crouch said.
Manufacturers that challenge the new regulations will likely get support from some lawmakers on Capitol Hill, who are already challenging the EPA’s use of questionable science to create contentious new rules.
The EPA announced the proposed stove rules last week, but in November, Republican Rep. Thomas Massie of Kentucky questioned EPA Administrator Gina McCarthy during a Science Committee hearing about their plans.
Massie suggested that the Obama administration wants consumers to rely on government checks to pay heating bills, rather than to continue to allow cost savings by using wood burning stoves.
“First the administration went after coal, now it’s coming after wood heat,” Massie said.
“As the price of coal fired electricity goes up due to the president’s promise to bankrupt the coal industry, wood heat is a viable alternative for some individuals who are willing to split wood instead of watching TV,” Massie said.
Nearly 12 million homes nationwide are heated by wood, according to the U.S. Energy Information Administration.
“Federal regulation of wood burning is misguided,” Massie said.
The decision to create the new rules was prompted in part by lawsuits from environmental groups, which hailed the announcement.
The EPA says smoke from woodstoves creates health problems, including heart attacks, asthma attacks and strokes.
The agency will accept public comments on the proposal for three months, with only one public hearing scheduled for next month in Boston.