Monday, December 17, 2012

Wood Stoves and the New EPA Soot Rule

Alliance for Green Heat, December 17, 2012 - The new soot rules announced by the EPA on December 14 require a 20% reduction in allowed particulate matter to 12 micrograms per cubic meter annually, which may make it tougher for counties with excess wood stove smoke to comply with federal air quality standards.  However, the current 24 hour standard of 35 micrograms per cubic meter remains unchanged, which is more likely the standard implicated by wood smoke.

Along with vehicles and power plants, wood stoves are one of the contributors to poor air quality in some of the counties facing non-attainment of federal standards. “Wood stoves continue to produce too much smoke partially because the EPA has failed to comply with the Clean Air Act and has not updated emission standards for a quarter of a century. The Clean Air Act says the EPA should review standards every eight years,” said John Ackerly, President of the Alliance for Green Heat. In addition, incentives for renewable energy technologies have not focused on the cleanest wood devices, like pellet stoves, as they have in Europe.

The Alliance for Green Heat reported earlier in July that the EPA projected this standard could push six more counties into non-attainment by 2020. The list included counties in California, Arizona, Michigan, and Alabama, as well as Lincoln County in Montana where a famous wood stove change out program took place in the community of Libby between 2005-2008. Epidemiology professor Curtis Noonan, who has studied the Libby change out program extensively, said in July that Libby could be in danger of becoming a non-attainment county in 2012 if the limit was set to 12 micrograms.

As of last Friday, December 14, 2012, the EPA has since changed its projections of what counties are likely to not meet the new standard by 2020. Lincoln County, Montana and several others listed in July appear to have fallen off the potential non-attainment list while more have been added. The total now stands at seven counties, all of which are located in Southern California.

States will be required to make area designation recommendations by December 2013 with final designations from EPA due out in December 2014.  Implementation plans are scheduled for 2018 with the goal of attainment by 2020. 

The EPA has multiple air quality standards for fine particulate matter pollution (PM2.5), which is sometimes referred to as soot.  In addition to the recently updated annual standard of 12 micrograms per year, the EPA also has a 24 hour PM2.5 standard of 35 micrograms per cubic meter, last updated in 2006. Wood smoke is likely to have a much greater impact on the 24 hour standard violations than the annual one, and there are over 100 counties that are in non-attainment of the 24 hour standard as of December 14, 2012.

To view the sources of annual PM2.5 emissions in your state or county, visit:

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