Lawmakers: Rules Aimed at Wood Stoves Hurt Low-Income Earners

Tuesday, 03 Jun 2014 08:00 PM

By Cheryl K. Chumley

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Lawmakers around the nation are launching initiatives to prevent Environmental Protection Agency regulations aimed at limiting wood-stove emission levels from taking effect, calling the rules hurtful to lower-income earners and a blow to private property rights.

State Sen. Tom Casperson has introduced a bill, SB 910, to prohibit the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality from imposing new emission restrictions on wood stoves or wood-fueled heaters, or implementing any regulatory clamp-down from the federal government.

"We believe environmental groups are really the ones behind those who have told the [EPA] they have concerns about wood boilers," Casperson said.

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"Too often, the environmental groups actually work hand-in-hand with the EPA on these kinds of frivolous regulations. The complaints can become an excuse to take action and create rules that allow government to increasingly control what people do," Casperson said, according to Michigan Capitol Confidential.

About 12 million homes in the country have wood stoves, three-quarters of which the EPA estimates are less than half as efficient as more modern cooking stoves. Another 2 percent of homes in the nation use wood as the primary source of energy.

The EPA in January proposed a rule change to tighten emission levels on newly purchased wood-fueled heaters and stoves, not ones that are currently in use in homes.

Under the new rules, manufacturers would have five years to produce new heaters and stoves — specifically wood heaters and indoor and outdoor wood-fired boilers, aka hydronic heaters — that cut emission levels by about 80 percent. Any homeowner who wanted to install or construct a new wood-fueled device would be subject to the new EPA emission standards.

But lawmakers at both the state and federal levels have started to rebel, calling the restrictions needless and a blow to lower-income families and individuals who often rely on such devices for home heating and cooking.

Particularly upset by the EPA's proposed rule are Republican members of Congress from South Dakota — Sen. John Thune and Rep. Kristi Noem — who petitioned EPA Administrator Gina McCarthy to abandon the proposals, noting that nearly a quarter of their constituents derive energy from wood stoves or fireplaces.

The EPA, meanwhile, said the wood stoves and heaters are significant air pollution hazards, contributing as much as 13 percent of the nation's total soot pollution.

Environmental groups are using that data to shape their public relations battle.

"Breathing clean air is a basic right that state and federal officials should protect," said Andy McGlashen, interim communications director for the Michigan Environmental Council.

"We are opposed to [state] Sen. Casperson's bill because it would prevent the Department of Environmental Quality from fulfilling that obligation to Michigan residents. Inefficient wood stoves are a significant source of air pollution, and lawmakers shouldn't stand in the way of efforts to move toward cleaner, more efficient models that already are widely used," McGlashen told Newsmax.

Michigan isn't the only state that's fighting the EPA over the wood-stove issue, though other states haven't taken so bold a step as Casperson's bill.

Scott Hendrick, program director for the Environment & Natural Resources division for the National Conference of State Legislatures, said Missouri lawmakers introduced a legislative measure to counter the EPA's wood-stove regulations, and so has Alaska. But neither measure carries much force.

"They're resolutions," he said. "So, they wouldn't change the substance of law. And the resolution in Alaska generally condemns remarks of Gina McCarthy that she made in a preamble that mentions the wood-stove regulations."

Minnesota lawmakers have banded together to push a bill that would nullify much of the EPA's power in their state, including the agency's authority to tighten emission levels of wood stoves.

But the bill faces an uphill climb. Most legal minds agree that states have little to no power to oust federal EPA regulations, and court battles of this kind are often long and costly.

Meanwhile, several states are actually in favor of the EPA's crackdown on wood-fueled devices, with some calling for extra rules to ban sales of products that don't meet strict certification standards, or to limit days on which they might be used.

Proposed legislation in Arizona, for example, would put in place no-burn days when the state's environmental agency predicts that carbon monoxide emissions are hitting pre-ordained ceilings, and prohibits the installation of a wood stove without a permanent gas or electric log insert.

Colorado legislation seeks to set emission performance standards for wood stoves. Maine lawmakers want to offer financial incentives to homeowners who swap out wood-burning devices for cleaner sources of energy. Utah and Idaho offer tax benefits to those who burn cleaner fuels. Washington bans outright the sale or construction of wood stoves that don't meet emission standards set by the EPA.

The EPA's ruling will have dramatic impact, Thune said in a late-March letter to McCarthy.

"With the recent propane shortage throughout South Dakota and many areas of the country, the last thing the EPA should be doing is making it harder and more expensive for families to heat their homes," he wrote.

"The EPA needs to head back to the drawing board and work with Congress and manufacturers to work on common-sense standards that will keep energy affordable for middle-class families."

Editor's Note: Ordinary Man Retires at 42. His Secret to Success . . .

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