In the weeks since the EPA unveiled their new regulations on residential wood heaters, many myths are starting to circulate in the right-wing media about what they mean. It’s sometimes hard to tell if the authors are intentionally spreading misleading information about the regulations, or they simply haven’t done enough research to know that they are spreading rumors. Probably some of both.
Next week we will be taking a look at the language used by some environmental activists who want much broader bans on wood heating. And sometimes it’s hard to tell who is on the right and who is on the left. One off-grid newsletter was touting the benefits of unpasteurized milk, organic vegetable gardens – and the evils of the EPA who cozy up to big business and threaten our freedom to live healthy lives.
After reading quite a few of the articles decrying the wood stove regulations, it’s clear that they are feeding off one another and often quoting one another. Many of the articles are from small fringe groups and websites, but some are from mainstream ones like Forbes and from ideologues at think tanks like the Heartland Institute. Here are some of the most common myths in the making:
1. The “EPA Banned 80% of Wood Stoves” Myth: “Only weeks after the EPA effectively banned 80 percent of the wood-burning stoves money-saving Americans use to heat their homes, the attorneys general of seven states are suing to force the agency to crack down on wood-burning water heaters.” That the EPA is banning 80% of stoves has appeared in numerous headlines, and refers to the estimate that 80% of stoves currently on the market do not meet the new standards that will come into play 5 to 8 years from now. True, the EPA will “ban” the production of those models 5 to 8 years from now, but those articles often do not clarify that existing stoves are not affected and are grandfathered. This writer also confused the timeline and nature of the EPA’s proposed regulations and the lawsuit.
2. The “Replacement Isn’t Allowed” Myth: “Older stoves that don’t [meet new standards] cannot be traded in for updated types, but instead must be rendered inoperable, destroyed, or recycled as scrap metal.” Another article simplified this by saying “trading in an old stove for a newer stove isn’t allowed.” This nugget of misinformation started by quoting language about trade-out programs and then got applied to the new EPA stove regulations.
The “Sue and Settle” Myth: This is but another example of EPA ... working with activist environmental groups to sue and settle on claims that afford leverage to enact new regulations which they [EPA] lack statutory authority to otherwise accomplish.” “With a wink, wink, the Federal agencies encourage outside groups to file suit against some perceived flaw in the way we live.” “Such lawsuits ... are nothing but an opportunity for the courts to take power and authority from the legislative and executive branches of the government since the courts supervise the settlements. It’s a way the courts can become another legislature.” “This collusive lawsuit is intended to expand EPA authority to stop burning wood.”
Part of this is sheer myth and part is a skewed analysis of what is going on. First of all, the EPA has statutory authority already given to it by the US Congress in the Clean Air Act of 1970 (under Richard Nixon) that was updated in 1990 (under George H.W. Bush). The agency does not need to expand its powers and, for example, has the authority to regulate fireplaces but is choosing not to use that power. Second, the lawsuit filed by 7 states and another by 5 environmental groups has nothing to do with the merits of the regulation, but only to force the EPA to issue regulations and not keep delaying them. (The industry trade group, the HPBA, is also now a party to that suit.) True, the states and groups suing are ones that want much stricter regulations; however, their influence on the regulations preceded their lawsuit and happened during 2012–2013 when they realized that the EPA was going to propose far less strict regulations. It was believed by many that the EPA had become too close to industry and too dependent on industry expertise and data during a time that the EPA didn’t have enough of their own resources to do necessary testing and research.
4. The “EPA Will Force People to Buy New Stoves” Myth: “Low- and middle-class families living primarily in rural areas may be forced to spend thousands of dollars to switch to newer units or use more expensive forms of energy in order to stay warm.” No matter how often the EPA says that existing units are grandfathered and not impacted, this myth was going to gain traction. There may be some local areas that pass “sunset” laws, like in Tacoma-Pierce County, Washington, where use of old, uncertified stoves will not be allowed as of Jan. 1, 2015. But low-income families are often exempted, or provided funding to trade up. Most people assume that this will add some cost to most new stoves (estimates range between $100 and $1,000) and that low-income families will be even more likely to buy and install an old, uncertified stove rather than buying a new one. This is a legitimate issue and will undoubtedly get lots of public attention over the next year.
The EPA expects to issue final regulations in 2015. Watch for a new round of myths to arise then.
For a sample of one of the more mainstream mythmaking articles, click here.