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. 

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