RATHDRUM – Proposed federal regulations that would require new wood stoves to burn cleaner are under attack from manufacturers, who say the new pollution limits are too strict.
“I’m all for clean air,” said Mark Freeman, owner of Kuma Stoves Inc. in Rathdrum. But, “just because you can make a stove that clean, should you?”
On Monday, he found a sympathetic ear in U.S. Sen. Mike Crapo, R-Idaho, who stopped at the plant during a tour of North Idaho. Crapo, who is running for re-election in 2016, said the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency hasn’t provided scientific justification for the proposed change.
About 11 million U.S. households burn wood for heat, according to federal statistics. Wood smoke from residential stoves is a significant source of air pollution in some parts of the country, particularly affecting children and the elderly, according to the EPA.
With eight employees, Kuma is one of the nation’s smallest manufacturers of federally certified wood stoves. Freeman said the new pollution limits could jack up the price of new wood stoves by hundreds of dollars and threaten the family-run company he started in 1981.
Instead of targeting new stoves, Freeman said the federal government should provide households with financial incentives to replace pre-1990 stoves, which are much more polluting than current models.
“Let’s go after those old smoke belchers,” he said.
EPA’s proposed pollution limits for new wood stoves and pellet stoves would be the first update to the rules since 1988. The new limits target particulates from residential wood smoke emissions, which have been linked to heart attacks, strokes and asthma. Existing stoves would not be affected by the new regulation.
The proposed rules would lower particulate emissions in all new stoves from 7.5 grams per hour to 4.5 grams per hour by the end of next year. By 2020, the emission standard could drop as low as 1.3 grams of particulates per hour.
The Alliance for Green Heat, a Maryland-based nonprofit that supports the use of wood stoves as renewable energy, endorses the stricter pollution controls.
“We think that getting stoves to be a lot cleaner will ultimately benefit the hearth industry,” said John Ackerly, the nonprofit’s president. “If the status quo remains, there’s going to be a lot more no-burn days and public opinion turning against wood stoves.”
Some stove manufacturers are already meeting very low pollution limits, he said. But until new standards are adopted, there won’t be widespread incentives for the industry to make cleaner-burning stoves, Ackerly said.
Smaller manufacturers who haven’t invested in research and development might be at risk, he said. But Ackerly said he thinks that the EPA is headed toward a compromise on the level of particulates allowed.
Kuma Stoves already meets the 4.5 grams per hour threshold for particulates, which was adopted by Washington state in 1990. But Freeman said that getting to even lower pollution limits would sacrifice heat or require customers to burn more wood. In addition, federal certification for new stove designs is an expensive proposition, costing about $350,000, he said.
The industry also has concerns about the EPA’s proposed changes to testing methods for stove certification, said John Crouch, public affairs director for the Hearth, Patio & Barbecue Association, a trade group. He was present for Monday’s tour of Kuma Stoves.
“Five years sounds like a long time to phase in new regulations, unless you’re a company this size,” Crouch said.
EPA officials are expected to make a decision on the new limits by February.
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