Saturday, January 31, 2015

Flurry of Lobbying on Furnaces and Test Methods on Eve of New Stove Rules

The Office of Management and Budget
is in the Old Executive Office Building
next the White House.
Sources confirmed that the EPA is set to announce the new wood heater rules on Tuesday, February 3rd, the court ordered date.  After years of debate and anticipation about cost impacts and emission standards for stoves and outdoor boilers, the issue that has become the most contested on the eve of the announcement is warm air furnaces.

The Office of Management & Budget (OMB) cleared the rule on Feb. 1 "with changes" setting the stage for it to be signed by Administrator McCarthy and publicly released.  (Rules often take 2 - 4 weeks to appear in the Federal Register after they are publicly released by an agency.)

Even though the big decisions were all supposed to be made last fall, there has been intensive lobbying by stakeholders right up until Friday afternoon, January 30th - one business day ahead of the expected announcement. At least 2 groups met with the Obama Administration through the Office of Management & Budget on Friday, January 30th. During January, interest groups had at least six other meetings with OMB, lobbying for last minute changes to the proposed rule.

The patterns, attendees and paperwork left behind at OMB meetings this month offer a unique glimpse into some of the most contested areas of the rule. Thanks to sunshine laws that make records of meetings with government agencies public, the public can see a list of who met with the OMB in the weeks leading up to the announcement of the rule.

The short term fate of warm air furnaces (WAF) appears to be the top priority of the hearth industry because they represent the only product category where most existing models cannot be made or sold for a period of time after the rule becomes law and before they become certified. HPBA participated in two meetings in January along with their legal counsel and consultant, Jack Ferguson, and various of their member companies, including US Stove, Central Boiler, Hardy, Heatmor and Hawken Energy.

Jack Goldman, CEO of the Hearth Patio & Barbecue Association, said in a letter to EPA that this is "clearly a death sentence" to most of the companies making warm air furnaces. The EPA says that they do not have the legal authority under the Clean Air Act to delay implementation of emissions standards. Warm air furnaces are the only class of wood heaters that will be required to meet emission standards, but are still unregulated and have little ability to be tested and certified until the rule is announced.  US Stove Co may be the leading manufacturer of warm air furnaces in the U.S. and they often sell for less than $2,000 - less than most wood stoves.

Another hot topic that emerged in recent months is a dispute over the opposite end of the spectrum from unregulated hot air furnaces - high performance indoor boilers, often made in Europe, but now being made in the US. The EPA certified test labs refuse to use a test method for these appliances developed by DOE's Brookhaven National Lab and funded by NYSERDA, which captures some start-up emissions and uses cord wood instead of cribs. This is emblematic of a long simmering rift between test methods for outdoor wood boilers and European style indoor boilers with thermal storage, which offer the potential for cleaner combustion. NYSERDA and Econoburn, a NY manufacturer who makes these furnaces ask, "Who should really benefit? Those who innovate or those who refuse to?"

Other meetings in January with OMB and key stakeholders include one with about a dozen air quality agencies and states; with representatives of the Pellet Fuels Institute and a pellet testing facility; and with Intertek Test labs. Attendees in meeting between OMB and indoor and outdoor boilers and furnace manufacturers, and with NYSERDA and New York manufacturers are also in the public record.

If participants of the meetings provided OMB with documents, those documents are also public. Three key documents were provided this month, two from HPBA on a their legal argument (PDF) to delay compliance for hot air furnaces and a survey (PDF) commissioned by HPBA of HPBA member retailers on sell through trends. Four of the groups that met with OMB did not leave materials and there is as of now no record of the topics raised at those meeting. The only other document from the final month of intensive lobbying was from NYSERDA, NESCAUM and New York based companies (powerpoint).

Wednesday, January 28, 2015

Sample Wood Smoke Nuisance Regulations

This outdoor wood boilers in Morgan
County Utah was somehow found not
to be a nuisance by a County Judge. 
Updated: May 2022 - Many jurisdictions in the Western US have “burn bans” that disallow the use of wood or pellet stoves when air quality is very poor, often in conjunction with weather inversions.  Nuisance regulations, on the other hand, apply when one person is creating excessive smoke that bothers an immediate neighbor.  That person may be using an EPA certified stove, an old stove or an outdoor or indoor boiler.

In the US, wood smoke complaints are handled locally, and more often than not, local officials are at a loss to handle complaints effectively. There is also a range of standards by which excessive smoke is measured.  Lack of resolution between neighbors is all too common, due sometimes to a lack of a clear nuisance standard for that town or county, or simply due to a lack of the ability or willingness to enforce a nuisance standard.  

The Alliance for Green Heat and many in the wood heating community support strong nuisance regulations and urge local officials to train their staff to enforce them.  Often, the problem is less about the stove technology and more about poor operator behavior. Many stove owners do not understand that their energy solution should not be their neighbor's problem.  Reducing fossil fuel use is a great benefit of wood stoves, but when a single stove is too polluting, or there are simply too many stoves in a valley or town, solutions are needed.  Pellet stoves are often an excellent solution from a pollution standpoint.

In areas with frequent inversions and in urban areas, limiting the new installations of cordwood stoves is often a good solution.  And, not allowing the installation of uncertified, second hand stoves is also a good solution.  Requiring permits and professional installation can also help.  

Sometimes, standards are less important than the discretion and findings of a local health official.  In Massachusetts, for example, a City Commissioner of Public Health has wide discretion to order someone to stop burning wood, as a Commission did in June 2017 after local residents complained of smoke from a restaurant. The 6-page decision found that a $65,000 scrubber performed poorly and ordered the owner to stop burning wood and charcoal.

If a jurisdiction has no written standard or regulation and does not allow the kind of discretion a health commission in Massachusetts has, the sample provisions below offer an excellent starting point for the jurisdiction to adopt.  Most jurisdictions use "opacity" as a measure of smoke - meaning the ability to see through it.  An opacity of 20% or lower is often listed as acceptable, but not always.  In some regulations, a specific amount of start-up time is exempted, ranging from 6 to 20 minutes in these sample regulations. However, many wood stove experts say 20 - 30 minutes is often the time needed to get a fire without visible smoke.
The Ringellman chart or scale was developed in 1888 and is still sometimes used and referenced today.
The Ringellman scale was adapted by the US Bureau of Mines.
The Alliance for Green Heat has noticed an increase in complaints about wood smoke.  We know that in many cases excessive wood smoke results from burning unseasoned wood, caused in part by the shortage of seasoned firewood this year.  Too many people with wood stoves wait until the fall to order wood and too many firewood distributors try to pass off unseasoned wood as seasoned.

The proposed ban of stoves in Utah has also brought the issue of “responsible burning” to the forefront, with industry calling for EPA certified equipment to be exempt from any ban.  These nuisance provisions, with a few exceptions, make no distinction between the kind of device that is being used, and focus solely on how well the operator is using it. 


We have updated the links to current laws as much as possible, but check the actual language in the current law, not on our summary to be sure of how the law or regulation works.

No person shall cause or allow the emission of smoke exceeding twenty-percent opacity from any flue or chimney, except for a single fifteen-minute period for cold start-up. Any emission in excess hereof is hereby declared to be a nuisance and is prohibited.

Maine (2013)
A person who operates in a densely populated area an outdoor wood-burning device that produces visible emissions, measured as any opacity, totaling 12 minutes in any hour that cross onto land or buildings immediately adjacent to a dwelling or commercial building not owned by the owner of the outdoor wood-burning device creates a nuisance.

Massachusetts (2022)
Massachusetts Department of Environmental Protection (MassDEP) regulations limit visible smoke (or "opacity") and prohibit air pollution that places people at risk, interferes with property uses, threatens natural resources, or creates nuisances, such as excessive odor and soot.

Oregon (2014)
Wood smoke in Oregon

* Existing sources outside special control areas. No person may emit any air contaminant for a period or periods aggregating more than three minutes in any one hour which is equal to or greater than 40% opacity.
* New sources in all areas and existing sources within special control areas: No person may emit any air contaminants for a period or periods aggregating more than three minutes in any one hour which is equal to or greater than 20% opacity.

Utah (2021)
* A nuisance is anything which is injurious to health, indecent, offensive to the senses, or an obstruction to the free use of property, so as to interfere with the comfortable enjoyment of life or property. A nuisance may be the subject of an action.
* A nuisance under this part includes tobacco smoke that drifts into any residential unit a person rents, leases, or owns, from another residential or commercial unit. [There is no mention of wood smoke or opacity in the nuisance provisions of the Utah Code.]


No person shall cause or allow a visible emission from any wood-burning device in any building or structure that exceeds No. 1 on the Ringlemann Chart or 20 percent opacity for a period or periods aggregating more than three consecutive minutes in any one hour period. Visible emissions created during a fifteen-minute start-up period are exempt from this regulation.


* Certified wood heaters may be operated during a no-burn period provided that no visible emissions are produced after a twenty (20) minute period following start up or refueling.
* During a period in which the Director has not declared a no-burn, no person shall operate a solid fuel heating device in a manner which produces emission into the atmosphere if the emissions exceed 30 % opacity twenty (20) minutes or longer after ignition or refueling of the solid fuel burning device. Visible emission opacity shall be determined by an observer certified by the Director.

Smoke shall not exceed an average of 20% opacity for any 2-minute period during an hour or average of 40% for 6 minutes after start-up.

The emission into the open air of visible smoke from any residential indoor non-wood pellet-burning appliance or any non EPA-Phase II certified wood burning appliance or fireplace used for home- heating purposes in such manner or in such amounts as to endanger or tend to endanger the health, comfort, safety or welfare of any reasonable person, or to cause unreasonable injury or damage to property or which could cause annoyance or discomfort in the area of the emission, is prohibited.

Eugene, OR (2021)
* During a green or yellow advisory, no person in charge of property shall operate or allow to be operated a solid-fuel space-heating device which discharges emissions that are of an opacity greater than 40 percent. This provision does not apply to the emissions during the building of a new fire, for a period or periods aggregating no more than ten minutes in any four-hour period.
* Upon a determination that a person has violated section 6.255 of this code, the city manager may impose upon the violator and any other person in charge of the property, an administrative penalty not greater than $500.

Fort Collins, CO
* After the first 15-minutes of start-up, smoke from the chimney must be at or less than 20% opacity (smoke should be barely visible looking at it with your back to the sun).
* Violation of City Code can result in a summons to appear in municipal court resulting in a fine of up to $1,000 and 180 days in jail.

Juneau, AK (2008)
No person may operate a solid fuel-fired heating device in such a manner that visible emissions reduce visibility through the exhaust for more than 15 minutes in any one hour by 50% opacity or greater.

St. Louis, MO (2021)
"The emission or escape into the ambient (outside) air within the City from any source or sources whatsoever of smoke, ashes, dust, soot, cinders, dirt, grime, acids, fumes, gases, vapors, odors, or any other substances or elements in such amounts as are detrimental to, or endanger the health, comfort, safety, welfare, property, or the normal conduct of business shall constitute a public nuisance, and it is considered unlawful for any person to cause, permit, or maintain any such public nuisance.  The Commissioner of Health and or his or her designee operating as Delegated Agents of the State of Missouri, may give additional consideration to the presence of emissions that cause severe annoyance or discomfort, or are offensive and objectionable to a significant number of citizens as determined by the Commissioner of Health and or his or her designee within the City of St. Louis Department of Health."

* State law limits the density of smoke from indoor fires to ensure that people use clean burning techniques. This requirement is called the 20 percent smoke opacity limit. Opacity means how much your view through the smoke is blocked.
* 100 percent opacity means you can't see anything through the smoke. 20 percent opacity means there is very little smoke and you can see almost perfectly through it. If you use dry enough fuel, the right equipment, and give your fire the right amount of air, there should be no visible smoke from your chimney or stove pipe--only heat waves.
* There are two exceptions to the opacity rule which allow you limited time for denser smoke:
• Starting the fire. You have up to 20 minutes every four hours.
• Stoking the fire. You have up to six consecutive minutes in any one-hour period.

Thursday, January 22, 2015

As Utah debates seasonal stove ban, Salt Lake County adopts stricter rules

The proposed state seasonal
ban affects 75% of the Utah
As Utahns debate a seemingly doomed proposal to ban seasonal stove use,  Utah’s most populous county enacted its own rules banning stove use on both mandatory and voluntary air actions days as of Jan. 1, 2016. In other counties, voluntary air action days continue to be voluntary.

This will impact about half of all wood burning appliances in the non-attainment counties and could contribute significantly to reducing wood smoke.  Salt Lake County has nearly 102,000 wood burning appliances, with fireplaces accounting for a majority of that with 60,000 units, according to EPA figures.  There are nearly 20,000 uncertified wood stoves and about the same number of pellet stoves and certified wood stoves.  
This stove inventory was provided by EPA who use a variety of databases and sources to estimate the deployment of wood burning devices.
The governor’s seasonal ban proposal that would impact 7 counties in and around Salt Lake City is drawing intense and sustained criticism from Utah residents, with only a few people speaking up in support of the ban.  It's also drawing national attention from the wood stove industry that wants a 2-stage system, where EPA certified stoves could be used in stage 1 and all stove use banned in stage 2.

On the other hand, Salt Lake County, which has a more than a third of the state’s population and nearly half of the population and half the stoves in the Wasatch front non-attainment area, went the opposite direction, including all stoves, certified and uncertified, in both stages of air action days.  “This is a significant measure and with more enforcement could achieve a quarter to a half of the reductions that the Governor's plan sought,” said John Ackerly, President of the Alliance for Green Heat.

The issue has become an emotionally charged debate about individual rights vs. government control, striking a nerve within a deeply conservative part of the country.  In the public hearings, many people have testified about not being able to afford any other fuel than wood, and not wanting to be forced to use fossil fuel when they can use a cheaper renewable. 

But for air quality officials, the issue is simply about cleaning up the air and meeting federal air quality goals that are tied to highway funding.  The discussion quickly becomes about what the state can enforce and what it can’t.  The problem is that the state compliance capacity is already overstretched, with little ability to take on wood stoves.

However, that is different in Salt Lake County, which is moving ahead to enact stricter rules.  The County has decided to undertake the investigations of wood burning on mandatory no burn days itself, instead of leaving those to the state, which now only issues the fine.  Typically the initial warning is viewed an education process that leads to compliance, so that while many $25 fines have been given, rarely has the maximum of $299 been imposed. 

The new Salt Lake County rules, which take effect on Jan. 1, 2016, were not a reaction to the governor’s proposal or a rejection of the stove industry’s recommendations.  The County's process began before the state's process and ended before the stove industry got involved and helped set up the advocacy group Utahns for Responsible Burning.

According to officials at the Salt Lake Country Health Department, there was virtually no support for exempting EPA certified stoves from the county rule.  Both certified and uncertified stoves can produce excessive smoke, depending on operator behavior and moisture content of wood, with uncertified ones performing worse, on average.  While most EPA certified stoves produce 2 to 4.5 grams of particulates an hour in the lab when they are tested with specially prepared dry wood, they often produce far more in the real world.

The Alliance for Green Heat is urging Utah officials to consider phasing out uncertified stoves, since reducing the number of wood stoves will have the biggest impact.  “It may be that only about half of wood burners are really burning responsibly, whether they own a certified or uncertified stove,” Ackerly said.  “The uncertified stoves made before 1988 are now obsolete and most should not be used in densely populated areas,” Ackerly continued.

The current debate over wood heating comes less than 2 years after the outdoor wood boiler industry fought against Utah regulations that would prevent the installation of wood boilers on the Wasatch Front.  That debate also brought national attention of industry who hired lobbyists in Utah.  The industry effort to keep the market for outdoor boilers open in the non-attainment area was partially based on the now discredited argument that outdoor boilers were cleaner than wood stoves.

That case, like the current debate, involved questions of emissions data from test labs vs. emissions in the real world, and the likelihood that operators would be burning responsibly.

Saturday, January 17, 2015

Clearing the Air in Utah: A Wood Stove Compromise

Republican Governor Gary Herbert
directed his air quality staff to prepare
a draft rule banning wintertime stove use.
Utah Governor Herbert’s proposal to ban wintertime use of residential wood and pellet stoves started a debate on the wrong foot.  But it is vital that something is done and there are several ways that wood smoke can be reduced on the Wasatch Front around Salt Lake City.

[Update, Jan. 20: In a setback to the stove industry campaign, Salt Lake County voted to ban use of all stoves during both voluntary and mandatory air action days as of 2016.]

First, a phase out of all uncertified wood stoves is both realistic and effective.  A phase out would mean that stoves made before 1988 could not be legally used after a certain date, such as January 1st, 2017.  Before that date, the state could offer a tax credit to people who turn in their old stove and upgrade to an EPA-certified pellet stove or gas stove.  This would protect the investment of anyone who bought a new EPA-certified wood stove in the last 25 years.

A series of public hearing on the
proposed ban have elicited over-
whelming popular opposition.
Second, all existing stoves could be grandfathered, but there also could be a ban on installing new fireplaces or wood stoves in homes in the non-attainment area.  Pellet stoves could still be installed as they can’t spew excessive smoke like wood stoves can if they are not operated correctly. Many towns and valleys with bad inversions have stopped the new installation of fireplaces and wood stoves.

Third, as long as people can still buy and install wood stoves and fireplaces, Utah could require that they be among the cleanest in the country.  Next year the national standard will be 4.5 grams an hour for wood and pellet stoves.  On the Wasatch front, you could require new stoves not to emit more than 3 or even 2 grams an hour.  

No matter what strategy Utah chooses, the state must commit more resources to implement and enforce it – even in the unlikely event they choose a full seasonal ban.  There will need to be trained compliance officers responsible for educating homeowners, inspecting homes, issuing warnings and, as a last resort, fines.  Typically there will be a minority of people who create the most smoke.  If those people can’t or won’t operate their stoves in a way that doesn’t create excessive smoke, fines should be imposed, just as fines are imposed for excessively loud music or any number of other nuisances. 
In mountain valleys, wood smoke can
make up more than 50% of PM during
inversions.  In the Salt Lake area, its
less than 10%.

Most appliances are only regulated at the point of manufacture.  After we purchase them, we are free to use a refrigerator or washing machine as long as we want, and abuse them in any way if we so choose.  But for big emitters like cars and stoves, some measures to ensure ongoing pollution reduction can be warranted. For better or worse, many wood stoves last even longer than the best-made refrigerators or washing machines.  Consumers tend to want to upgrade all sorts of appliances far sooner than they want to upgrade their wood stove.  But the benefits of upgrading to a new stove are similar in that consumers are getting a far more efficient and cleaner device.  And some good, new wood stoves cost as little as $700 at big-box hardware stores.

We think the solution to reducing wood smoke involves phasing out old stoves and issuing periodic
Salt Lake City, during one of their
frequent wintertime inversions.
fines to people who can’t operate their EPA certified stoves in ways that don’t make them belch excessive smoke.  A compromise of limiting the seasonal ban to fewer counties in Utah and half the duration – Jan. 1 to Feb. 15th, instead of Nov. 1st to March 15th – is an option, but not a popular one.  It may not be an effective one, either.

As a society, we need to encourage the responsible use of renewable energy and support household energy security.  Pellet stoves are already an environmentally responsible way to heat homes.  Wood stoves can be, but are more complicated, especially in densely inhabited areas with inversions.  A wood stove is a far bigger emitter of pollution than a car, and we need to start thinking about them as such.  Just as many states require emission testing when a second hand car is sold, Oregon has begun requiring the removal of an old stove when a house gets sold.  These are the sorts of solutions that can also work in Utah.

Governor Herbert is ready to make some tough decisions in order to accomplish something everyone wants – cleaner air. This proposal goes too far, but there are many other measures that can work, while respecting the ability of responsible stove owners to use a renewable resource to heat their home.  Regardless, Governor Herbert needs to show that he is ready to provide some more funding and resources to enact and enforce changes.  Otherwise, all of this controversy just amounts to hot air.


You can submit comments to the Utah Air Quality Board until February 9.  For more info, click here.

For media coverage of the Utah public hearings, click here.

For the AGH position on the industry response to the proposed ban, click on this Facebook post.