Monday, June 29, 2020

Outdoor Wood Boiler Lives Matter. Really?

A recent eamil from Warren Walborn,
CEO out OutdoorBoiler.com
Eighty-four percent of homes that heat with wood in the United States are occupied by Anglo-Saxon families, and only 6% are Black, according to a survey commissioned by HPBA several years ago.  That also may reflect about the same percent of Blacks who attend the annual HPBA Expo. Sometimes I wonder what its like to be a person who is Black at the Expo.  I suspect that we are mostly professional, and put aside attitudes about Obama or Trump or race issues and focus on the products on display.  But as a person who is white, I don't know for sure.

A few weeks ago I got an email from Warren Walborn, titled "Outdoor Wood Boiler Lives Matter" belittling the very real issues facing the Black community today.  Warren is the CEO of OutdoorBoiler.com which used to be Hawken Energy, a Michigan company that sells products to extend the life of outdoor wood boilers.  This is no time to mock the undeniable statistics showing that on average, Black people are more likely to die in encounters with police.

Currently, about 6% of Black homes
have wood stoves, according to one
survey.  Before integration, more Black
homes in parts of the south heated with
wood than white homes.
We are also living in a time of reckoning with environmental- justice issues.  Refineries and other polluting parts of the fossil fuel infrastructure are more likely to be situated near lower income, non-white communities. As statues come down and the world changes around us, many of us wonder, where will this end?  Will it go too far? Will it go far enough?

I would be proud if one of the trade associations I belong to, the HPBA, would also ban the confederate flag from its annual expo, as NASCAR did.  The Expo should remain a place that is welcoming for all races that coexist in our country, and of all races that want to enjoy hearth products.  I never remember seeing a confederate flag at an Expo but Expos are now held exclusively in the deep south - New Orleans, Nashville, Atlanta, Dallas.  HPBA could be proactive and set a standard of tolerance for all.

The backlash against police voilence in the United States is reverberating around the world, and prodding all of us to think more seriously about it and be part of positive change.  That starts with speaking out about issues in our professional lives that we care about.

Postscript: On August 5, Richard Hoffman, Chair of HPBA's Board of Directors issued a statement on race, and key portions include: "In light of this summer’s protests and increased awareness of racial issues, I wanted to reach out to you and outline HPBA’s positions.  HPBA respects the membership’s individuality in choosing their structure, mission, marketing, social position and comments. It is not an area that we can represent for the whole. HPBA does follow and promotes equal opportunity and nondiscriminatory practices for all individuals in its headquarters operations and volunteer leadership, and we encourage all of our members to do the same."

Warren Walborn also left a scathing comment to this blog which can be found by clicking on "comment" at the bottom of this blog.

John Ackerly
President, AGH
jackerly@forgreenheat.org


Wednesday, June 10, 2020

States take on the EPA in controversial wood stove proposal

Mary Uhl of WESTAR testifying at a
2018 air quality meeting.
Industry touts economic strain on stove retailers, but outdoor wood boiler and furnace manufacturers are also behind campaign for more time

Updated on June 17 - A virtual EPA hearing on June 8 pitted states against the EPA over emission limits from wood stoves, boilers and furnaces.  The EPA is proposing to ease the emissions compliance timeline for wood stoves and boilers but over a dozen states urged the EPA to withdraw its proposal.  Minnesota formally told the EPA and the wood heating industry that stoves and boilers must comply with the existing timeline that was set in 2015 for sales and shipments in their state.  California’s Air Resources Board took a more combative tone and said they are considering a lawsuit for the illegal sale of non-compliant stoves after May 15.

“Minnesota incorporated the 2015 NSPS and its 2020 timetable into state laws … which means that the May 15, 2020 compliance deadline is enforceable in Minnesota. EPA’s proposed revision will not change this deadline,” said Anne Jackson, an engineer with the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency in her written testimony.

Peter Solac, a long-time Minnesota
based stove retailer who may not be
able to take advantage of a federal
time extension 

Peter Solac, of Woodland Stoves and Fireplaces, is a stove retailer based in Minnesota who testified that he needed the additional time for 15 Step 1 stoves that he was not able to sell due to Covid-19.  He did not address the predicament that his state will not allow it.   Central Boiler may face an even greater problem, as its manufacturing facility is in Minnesota, and they apparently still had some Step 1 boilers they want to sell.  On June 17, Rodney Tollefson of Central Boiler said in an email that "we have almost zero inventory of 2015 level certified units.  We are not asking for a sell through for us.   Our testimony was requesting sell through for our dealers that have inventory."

US Stove has also indicated their interest to ship units from their manufacturing facility during the proposed sell-through.  On May 29, Brandon Barry of US Stove wrote that “our inventory levels are confidential. I will say that sell through would be beneficial for us at both the manufacturing and retail level.  Some product came back to our location and could be sold if sell through comes to fruition.” On June 10, Mr. Barry said that AGH had misunderstood his previous email that that “We have been buying product back from retail. All that does is hurt our cash flow, which ultimately impacts our ability to manufacture new 2020 products. We understand that this is a “retail” sell through under consideration and not a manufacturers sell through.”

List of registered speakers at the
June 8 EPA hearing
However, England Stove Works, another major value stove manufacturer that also had buy back agreements clearly said that they do not have inventory they need to sell during a sell-through but like many other stove manufacturers, they support the ability of their retailers to use a sell-through.  Other manufacturers who indicate that they do not have Step 1 inventory themselves include Blaze King, Empire, Hearthstone and SBI, but all support the sell-through for their retailers.  David Kuhfal, CEO of Hearthstone said, “Hearthstone proactively sold down all step 1 products however; we absolutely support the opportunity for our dealers to have some time to liquidate their Step 1 inventory.”  Hearth & Home Technology, the largest manufacturer of more expensive stoves, say that they have no Step 1 inventory and their retailers should have been able to clear out their Step 1 inventory on time as well.

AGH asked HPBA if they were also seeking a sell-through for manufacturers and received this reply from Emily McGee, their Communications Director: "the reason we didn't reply to your question was that we don't have a position on that specific issue (manufacturers selling Step 1 products during a potential sell-through). Our focus has been on the retailers and remains so."  Many retailers have gone further, saying that the sell-through should not be open to manufactuers.

Of the 17 people who testified, about half were in favor of the sell-through and half were against it.  As with previous hearings and written testimony on the EPA wood heater regulations, all states and regional air agencies representing states were against extending deadlines.  Several retailers, a distributor, two manufacturers and HPBA representatives testified in favor of it.  Three non-profits were represented with the American Lung Association and EarthJustice speaking against, and the Alliance for Green Heat who favored a limited sell-through.  AGH is urging the EPA to only allow the sell-through for retailers, not manufacturers and also to limit it to stoves, not to central heaters.  Manufacturers of central heaters have been at the forefront of the fight for extended deadlines and sell-through and pose the largest threat to increased air pollution.

John Crouch, in upper left, in Crested
Butte, CO in 1989 with Bob Ferguson.

The arguments made by both sides were relatively predictable, with very little common ground.  However, Roger Ayers of Dreamstyle Remodeling focused on the need to regulate fireplaces that he estimates emit 44 grams of particulates per hour. Why focus on the difference of a gram or two between Step 1 and Step 2 when any home can still install unregulated fireplaces.  John Crouch of HPBA reminded everyone that many Step 1 stoves were already under 3.5 grams an hour and “the EPA has done no in-home testing of Step 1 or Step 2 stoves and has no way of knowing if these Step 2 stoves are an improvement or not.” 

Industry has asserted that there should have been a sell-through period built into the timeline from the start, like there was in 1988.  Mary Uhl of WESTAR countered that contention in her testimony, saying “In contrast to the original 1988 NSPS, in which manufacturers and retailers were allowed only two years to transition to more stringent standards, they received five years in the 2015 NSPS update.” 

Most of the states and air agencies argued that the EPA lacked a legal basis for the proposal,  did not do any regulatory impact analysis and is proposing to substitute two of the worst sales months for two of the best.  Maria Smilde of EarthJustice closed her testimony saying “Considering that respiratory difficulties have been a common COVID-19 symptom, the EPA should not use one public health crisis to rationalize extending another, nor does the Clean Air Act permit it to do so.”  Anne Jackson made a similar point, arguing that, “Given the health burden of fine particulate matter, there is no good reason to provide additional time to sell noncompliant devices, especially hydronic heaters, in the face of fighting a deadly, respiratory virus pandemic.”

Possibly the most surprising arguments against the sell-through came from the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency. “Minnesota was expecting full support from EPA to notify manufacturers and retailers about the approaching May 2020 deadline, and to undertake enforcement as necessary, especially with internet sales, as that is the most difficult for Minnesota to monitor. With EPA’s announcement of a proposed sell-through period along with lax enforcement, Minnesota must now undertake a nation-wide communication effort to notify manufacturers and retailers that Minnesota law does not allow sales in Minnesota of non-Step 2 wood-burning appliances.“

California is an anomaly as stationary sources of pollution are controlled by local air districts, not by the state.  Their Air Resources Board commented “Many states, and over half of California’s 35 local air districts, including the largest air districts, have delegated EPA authority to enforce the NSPS.  Under Clean Air Act section 304, states, other jurisdictions, and private citizens can also file citizen suits for sale of Step 1 stoves before any sell-through is finalized.  EPA may have chosen not to enforce the Step 1 sales ban in the period before any sell-through is finalized, but others can.”

The EPA will be transcribing all the testimony from the hearing and entering it into the official record, as they consider whether to approve a sell-through. 

Monday, June 8, 2020

AGH calls for limited, targeted sell-through of stoves


Residential Wood Heating New Source Performance Standards Testimony of John Ackerly
Alliance for Green Heat
Monday, June 8, 2020

Good morning.  My name is John Ackerly and I am the President of the Alliance for Green Heat.  We are a 501c3, non-partisan, non-profit organization based in Maryland.

Thank you for holding this hearing.  We will add to this testimony in our written remarks.

Let me start by saying that we support a partial, limited sell-through, but not one that will result in more Step 1 units coming from manufacturers into the retail market. That would backfire.

There is a way to do this proposed sell-through in a smarter, more targeted way.  And there is a way to do it that will add too much wood smoke into communities and neighborhoods.

One of the roles of AGH is to bring greater transparency to the wood heating community.  In the next 2 – 3 minutes, we’d like to talk about details that the EPA may not have considered.

We sympathize with many of the small retailers who still have some Step 1 appliances.  Their predicament is partly or in some cases mostly because manufacturers could not or did not get them Step 2 appliances early enough.  

Manufacturers had 5 years and that was enough time.  Now it’s the retailers turn. We do not think manufacturers should be able to sell or ship Step 1 units during a sell-through period unless the manufacturer is also the only retailer and they do not use any other retailers.  

On the EPA’s website, you say that  “the proposed amendments, if finalized, would provide retailers more time to sell Step 1-certified residential wood heating devices.”  Please stick to your word and only consider a sell-through for retailers, and not use this as a back doorway for manufacturers to keep moving Step 1 units into the market.

Many manufacturers held off producing and selling their certified Step 2 products until 2019, thinking or just hoping that there would be a sell-through.  If you happen to be a dealer who sells mostly those lines of stoves, you were put in a bad spot. 

HPBA has been a good partner to EPA insofar as they have helped educate retailers about the EPA regulations.  But their policies are more driven by manufacturers and in 2019 they were still urging retailers to buy Step 1 products to help out manufacturers.  They said, and I quote “Manufacturers need that revenue to complete testing and certification of Step 2 products.  Remember, you still have one full selling season between now and the Step 2 deadline.” (unquote)  

Hundreds of retailers tried to stop buying Step 1 appliances but some of the manufacturers that they sold for, pressured them to keep buying Step 1 units.  

The second way that the EPA can make this a smarter, targeted sell-through is to limit it to stoves and not allow central heaters.  Step 1 units central heaters have the potential to be far more polluting than Step 1 stoves.  If the EPA is concerned with air quality implications of a sell-through, the best way to allay those concerns is to focus on stoves, not on the appliances that have biggest fireboxes and the biggest potential to cause excessive smoke – and the worst reputation in the industry.

In the upper Midwest and great lake states, hundreds or thousands more Step 1 central heaters could be installed in communities that already have too many cheaper, polluting outdoor boilers and warm air furnaces.  Its patently unfair for companies like Lamppa Manufacturing and Fire Chief, who are even smaller than their competitors who did not design a Step 2 unit. They deserve to recoup their investments to design and certify Step 2 furnaces, not to be undercut by the EPA.  They followed your rules and your timelines and now you should not penalize them for that and reward the companies that fought your rules and thought they would not have to comply on May 15.

Out west many communities and valley towns that experience severe weather inversion where wintertime wood smoke get trapped close to the ground.  These are the areas that most needed Step 2 appliances and that don’t need cheaper, more polluting Step 1 stoves to be competing in the marketplace for yet one more heating season.  In anticipation of this likely sell-through, we urge those communities, starting with Fairbanks Alaska to adopt rules, if they haven’t already, that do not allow more Step 1 sales or installs.

AGH also calls on the EPA to publicly recognize states and local jurisdictions that may not allow the sell-through.  

The third way to make this a smarter, more targeted sell-through is to limit the time period to as little as 4 weeks, but no more than 8 weeks.  Retailers lost 2 very slow months due to Covid – 19 and the EPA is proposing to replace that with months during the peak of the selling season.  

Currently, an informal sell-through is already happening as hundreds of retailers use different methods to offload Step 1 stoves.  If anyone wants to go to eBay today or tomorrow, you will find hundreds of new stoves listed. (You need to double check the model numbers to see which ones are Step 1, which can be confusing.)  Craigslist is another outlet used by retailers, some of whom are still listing 4 or 6 new Step 1 units.  You can also find new, completely uncertified stoves online.  

Some may ask, why does the EPA need to propose a sell-through, when EPA enforcement is not tangible enough to stem this informal and illegal sell-through that has been occurring since May 15.  Will there be another informal sell-through after Nov. 31?  If EPA is going to allow a sell-through, it needs to do a much better job at showing that it can and it is willing to do certain types of enforcement.  Otherwise, we will just have a much longer period where some player comply and others are in continual, open non-compliance.

In closing, we want to say that because of EPA testing regulations, America probably makes the best wood stoves in world.  We lag behind in wood boiler technology and we are not the only leaders in pellet stove technology.  But with wood stoves, we probably have the strictest testing standards.  For the next NSPS, we should not be looking at reducing PM levels below 2 grams an hour without first getting a federal test method that requires cord wood fuel and is based on real world burning habits.  Thankfully, we now may be on track to undertake that, now that the 2020 deadline has basically remained intact, despite this likely sell-through window.  

We also urge the Office of Air & Radiation to recognize the carbon benefits of small high efficiency wood and pellet heating.  The Achilles heel of biomass to electricity is the low efficiency leads to more carbon emissions per unit of energy.  The Achilles heal of residential biomass is the particulate matter, not the carbon.  So if we can get better test methods that will lead to redesigned and genuinely cleaner stoves, we will be world leaders in residential wood stove technology.