Friday, August 30, 2013

Intent to sue notice exaggerates complicated issues

By Scott Nichols, Tarm USA

States should take the high road
Scott Nichols

A coalition of states recently issued a notice to the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) of intent to sue.  States want to end delays in implementing overdue New Source Performance Standards (NSPS) for wood burning appliances.  Further, states want the EPA to include new classes of wood burning appliances in the NSPS.  Particularly, wood boilers, also known as hydronic heaters for indoor and outdoor use, are described by the states as being major contributors to airborne pollution. The seven page notice is laden with statistics and is heavily footnoted. 

What is surprising is that the states, after many years of voicing concerns about the accuracy of claims made in wood burning appliance advertising, have themselves made expedient claims in their intent to sue.  For instance, the statement that European appliances have increased efficiency from 55% to over 90% is not the complete story.  Efficiency numbers can be stated a number of different ways.  For instance, the Fröling FHG wood boiler was recently tested by Brookhaven.  The technology the boiler uses is generally considered BDT for residential wood boilers.  Its rated seasonal efficiency at HHV was 68% according to Brookhaven.  The European test gives the same boiler an efficiency of 88%.  When people use efficiency numbers that are not clearly defined, it confuses the situation.  The very state regulators who get upset about the overstatement of efficiency numbers by wood appliance advertisers should know better than to play the same game. 

In the very next paragraph the states laud the Europeans for stringent emission and efficiency limits.  The very states that are party to the intent to sue notice could have supported a European style emissions test years ago, but have instead delayed emission and efficiency testing by trying to create new, more accurate test methods based on real world conditions.  To threaten the EPA over time delays while not encouraging the adoption of European style emission and efficiency testing many years ago is seems like an unjustified position to take.

In more than one location in the notice of intent to sue, states claim that use of indoor and outdoor boilers is increasing.  With time the number of hydronic heaters sold in aggregate will always increase, but how many are also going to the junk yard?  Many early outdoor wood boilers have rotted out and are no longer in use.  1970s oil crisis boilers are being retired as parts become hard to come by in some cases.  Old smoky boilers are less in favor than they once were which makes sales values closer to scrap values.  The word is getting out about wood smoke pollution.  Together with an economy that is down, energy conservation efforts, and proliferation of other renewable energy technologies, the claim that the use of boilers is increasing is dubious and unsupported by any data.  There is no need to over-state or to sensationalize.  It is clear that there are offensive wood burning appliances that not only pollute heavily, but are sullying the reputation of the wood burning industry.  Time and public sentiment are not on the side of these products.

Regulators missed the boat by waiting 25 years to update the NSPS.  One must wonder why states are at long last taking legal action with such verbose claims against the EPA.  EPA implementation of the NSPS is unfortunately going to have little effect on air pollution from wood burning appliances in the near future.  There are simply too many appliances in operation to rely only on regulation of new appliances to clear the air.  We now have to wait for all of polluting appliances now in use to die off.  That will take 20 years.

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