Wood heater makers push back against tighter pollution rules

Published 8:15 am Thursday, April 26, 2018

By Dan Gunderson

MPR News/90.1 FM

Minnesota-based Central Boiler has worked for years to cut the air pollution generated by its products. It met 2015 Environmental Protection Agency standards, which reduced fine particle emissions by as much as 90 percent.

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But the company, the nation’s largest maker of wood-fired home boilers, believes the next proposed federal standard — eliminating two-thirds of remaining pollutants in the wood smoke — is too much, too soon and executives are pushing back along with much of the woodstove and wood boiler business.

Health and environmental experts say the tighter standards are needed and that the proposed standard is not a big reach given the health concerns. The EPA says the microscopic particles in the smoke are the greatest health threat from wood stove emissions. They can cause bronchitis, pneumonia, asthma, or other serious respiratory diseases, and aggravate chronic heart and lung disease.

The industry, though, has the ear of Congress. The manufacturers won support from Minnesota DFL U.S. Rep. Collin Peterson, who represents Greenbush-based Central Boiler. He sponsored legislation to delay for three years rules that were set to take effect in 2020. The bill recently passed the U.S House.

“The new furnaces will be more efficient,” said John Crouch, director of public affairs for the Hearth Patio and Barbecue Association, a national trade group. “But there’s a limit to how much all of us are willing to pay for greater efficiency and pollution reduction.”

Wood stoves have been regulated for decades, but emission standards for outdoor wood boilers — which heat water that’s then piped indoors to heat a home — and indoor wood furnaces were first imposed in 2015. Those standards significantly reduced fine particle pollution from new wood burners. Officials saw the 2020 rules as the next logical step.

But the Hearth Patio and Barbecue Association sued the EPA over the new rules and in a court filing the agency asked to put the suit on hold while the agency revisits the rules. The agency plans to examine testing procedures and examine other concerns raised by the industry.

The industry says consumer costs will jump if the proposed emission rules take effect. Industry officials won’t put a dollar figure to it, citing the variation among manufacturers.

Central Boiler, though, says the higher standard could tack on at least $1,000 to $1,500 to the cost of a unit. The company’s single residence models run from $5,500 to about $10,000 currently.

“It gains more time for adequate testing by manufacturers to help come to the market with products that will be there. So that amount of time that’s needed to develop and to test that, extra time is really important,” said Central Boiler vice president Rodney Tollefson.

Tollefson also supports a revised testing program for new heaters. He says emission testing in Europe more closely mimics actual conditions consumers experience.