By Gov. Paul LePage – Spring is late this year throughout much of the country, and in northern states plenty of people are still firing up wood-burning stoves. Some use the stoves just to add a cheery glow to their homes, but millions of others burn wood to keep warm. If the Environmental Protection Agency has its way, new regulations will make life harder for those who most need wood stoves. And the EPA’s proposed rules will hit stove manufacturers hard.
I’m concerned about the EPA’s plans because in Maine, where I’m the governor, wood-burning stoves play an integral role in the state’s economy. Maine’s forests produce thousands of jobs for wood-stove makers, wood dealers, pellet manufacturers, foresters, loggers, and for small businesses such as stove and chimney dealers, installers and fabricators. Many rural Mainers depend on wood as a heating source.
The EPA wants to cut emissions from new wood-burning stoves and heaters beginning in 2015. Wood smoke, which contains carbon monoxide and compounds that contribute to smog, has been linked to heart attacks and strokes. It can aggravate asthma and even lead to premature death among people with heart and lung disease. The EPA’s proposed rules would require wood stoves and heaters to burn 80% more cleanly than existing models. The rules would start in 2015 and become stricter over a five-year span.
The EPA’s proposal is unlikely to reduce the amount of harmful wood smoke in the air. It may do just the opposite. The rule would make it prohibitively expensive for homeowners to purchase a new, more efficient stove. About 11.5 million U.S. homes use wood for heat, according to the EPA Burn Wise program. The industry has projected that in 2015, 85,000 wood stoves will be manufactured and sold. Yet if the new EPA-compliant wood stoves are too expensive, many people will just hold on to their old stoves, which only exacerbates the potential health threat from smoke.
My environmental-protection commissioner testified in Boston in February at the EPA’s only public hearing on this far-reaching rule. We support the drive for more efficient and environmentally beneficial wood-burning devices. But the current approach needs to be revised.
Maine is advocating for flexibility in this regulation. Newer, cleaner wood stoves should work without compromising heating ability—a significant concern when such draconian restrictions are placed on technology. The stoves also should not increase difficultly of operation (many older folks of limited means use wood stoves), and they should not be so prohibitively expensive that no actual health benefits are realized.
In addition to foisting yet more rules on an already oversaturated regulatory environment, the EPA is picking winners and losers in the marketplace. The agency’s new plan does not distinguish between catalytic and noncatalytic wood stoves, even though current EPA rules do recognize that the stoves have operational and emission differences. (Catalytic technology combusts wood at lower temperatures and produces lower smoke emissions.) By holding both kinds of stoves to the same standard, the EPA may effectively eliminate noncatalytic stoves, which are less expensive and easier to use and maintain.
I have great concerns when Jøtul, a noncatalytic wood-stove manufacturer whose North American headquarters is in Maine, says it would cost approximately $1 million to meet the EPA’s new standard. The additional cost burden would jeopardize manufacturers and ultimately make wood stoves significantly more expensive for consumers.
Another big concern: The EPA’s test methods do not depict real-life residential use. Catalytic stoves are more efficient in test settings and when properly installed, operated and maintained—a rare occurrence, according to dealers and chimney sweeps. The EPA’s proposal makes it a violation of federal law if owners do not operate their stove according to the owner’s manual. That’s harsh, unenforceable and simply unrealistic.
A 2008 study in Maine showed that 60% to 70% of residences surveyed have wood stoves that are 10 to 20 years old. Newer stoves are more efficient simply as a result of improved design and manufacturing—the EPA could reduce air contaminants just by instituting an incentive program for stove owners to buy newer models. Jøtul has had success with change-out programs to remove higher-emitting stoves from use. My administration has worked to make wood stoves more affordable by providing a $250 rebate using some of the millions of dollars Maine receives through the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative.
We need common-sense, practical regulations from Washington. Otherwise, many wood-stove owners and manufacturers will be left out in the cold.
Note: A version of this op-ed originally appeared in the Wall Street Journal.