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EPA Proposes New Standards For Pellet And Wood Stoves

VPR/Steve Zind

The federal government is proposing new standards for wood burning units that it says will dramatically reduce emissions.

According to the federal Environmental Protection Agency, stoves manufactured under the proposed standards would release 80 percent less pollution than those made under current rules.

Elaine O’Grady, director of the Air Quality and Climate Division at the Agency of Natural Resources, says the reduction is significant.

“The standards that are in place right now are outdated. They were last updated in 1988 and under the Clean Air Act the EPA is required to update them every eight years,” says O’Grady.

Vehicle emissions have the most significant impact on air quality in Vermont, but O’Grady says wood stoves are also responsible for fine particle emissions, known as PM 2.5, which present a health risk.

“The highest daily PM 2.5 concentrations tend to occur in Vermont in mountain valley towns and villages on calm, cold, clear mornings,” O’Grady says. “Under those kinds of conditions, residential wood smoke can account for half or more of the local fine particle concentrations.”

O’Grady says those concentrations sometimes exceed federal air quality standards.

John Crouch of the national Hearth, Patio and Barbeque Association, which represents wood stove manufacturers and retailers, says manufacturers aren’t sure the EPA’s proposed standards will result in stoves that appreciably improve air quality.

“We just want to be sure that small wood stove manufacturers aren’t asked to do more than, say, large coal-fired utilities on a dollar-per-ton basis.  Right now, the changes that are proposed would cost small woodstove manufacturers more,”says Crouch.

Crouch says the government needs better stove testing protocols – before it imposes new rules on manufacturers.

He says only 85,000 to 100,000 new wood burning units are manufactured each year.  If the emission rules result in stoves that are too expensive, he says consumers won’t buy them – defeating the purpose of the standards.   

Most pellet stoves are exempt from current performance standards, but would be now subject to the same standards as wood stoves. It’s also the first time federal standards would be applied to outdoor wood-fired boilers.

Wood burning in Vermont ebbs and flows, often with changes in fuel oil prices. It peaked in the 1980s.

According to the most recent state figures, for the 2007-2008 heating season, roughly one third of Vermont households used some wood for heat.