LePage: Wood-burning stoves get a regulatory chill


wood stoveBy 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.


  1. So we can’t burn wood, we can’t use nuclear power, we can’t use oil because it’s a fossil fuel (so is natural gas), we can’t use propane because it’s derived from refining petroleum, but we should use solar collectors when it’s cloudy 80 percent of winter and windmills except when it is calm. Of course we have to run some sort of conventional power plant as a backup to the unreliable solar and wind production unless we want to sit in the cold and dark on cloudy calm days. This is progress? This attitude is going to lure companies to invest in Maine’s people and locate or expand here? Who’s kidding who?

  2. Seems to me that no matter what we do, we are regulated to death! Who is making the money here? It is not the homeowners-every time we turn around we are told to heat our home differently! For those of us on fixed incomes we cannot change just because the EPA says we need or half too. They seem bent on making life more difficult for everyone – that is except for those who have plenty of money an time to spare!

  3. ‘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.’ ..Sounds very similar to ‘Cash For Clunkers’ to me….My wood stove will last me the rest of my life (I don’t have to buy a new one if I don’t want to), manufacturers strive to build more efficient wood stoves (which inherently cost more)..So where’s the big story??…Let’s stop the Chicken Little/The-Sky-Is-Falling dance and let us know if the EPA forces me to switch out my stove or if EPA regulations will definitely eliminate the sale of new non-catalytic stoves…

  4. Coal smoke can pour out of power plants, making Duke Energy et al filthy rich, that’s ok…lets regulate woodburners. ” hey maybe duke will get more customers this way!

  5. The government is set to crush out self-reliance at any level or degree. The FDA is out to crush organic farming (and gardening) Check out senate bill S510 of the Food safety modernization act. Soon you will have to get a permit through the town or county to grow vegetables on your own property. The EPA is set to seize all private water rights. So the government will have a data base on who has these things. And , when they’re ready the government will put a stop to any and all practices. Self-Reliance is not just the enemy of the American Corpratocrasy. Self -reliance is the enemy of all governments. Be a good little serf and accept whats coming. All the mechanisms are in place. Just waiting for the boot to drop.


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