The vast majority of U.S. wood-burning stoves are now banned under Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) rules that were finalized in February.
New EPA regulations phase out the production and sale of wood-burning stoves emitting levels of particulate matter—generally, smoke and soot—above designated levels.
According to University of Houston professor Larry Bell, “80 percent of wood-burning stoves currently used by homeowners [do not meet the new standards.]”
Close to 2.5 million homes in the United States, 2 percent of all households, use wood as a primary heating source, a figure that has increased 38 percent since 2004. Another 8 percent of households use wood as a secondary heating source.
Health Benefits Claimed, Disputed
Under the EPA rules, homeowners with existing wood-burning stoves can continue to use them, but new or replacement stoves will have to comply with the new limits. The EPA has given woodstove retailers until December 31, 2015, to sell their existing inventory. After that, all new wood-burning stoves will have to meet increasingly stringent emission limits phased in over five years.
The agency claims the rule will create $7.6 billion in benefits annually from reduced incidences of asthma attacks and other cardiopulmonary events.
EPA’s health claims have come under fierce criticism.
When EPA proposed the rule in 2014, Stonehill College professor Sean Mulholland submitted comments stating there are “several reasons to be skeptical of the level of benefits claimed from this regulation.” He cited literature questioning the link between particulate matter and mortality, and he criticized EPA for assessing benefits based on national averages rather than accounting for local variability.
Ron Arnold, executive vice president of the Center for the Defense of Free Enterprise, says the link between particulate matter and health problems is not as clear-cut as the agency claims.
“Does [a wood stove] cause smoke? Yeah, of course it does,” Arnold said. “And has that got particulate matter in it? Of course it does. Is it killing everybody? No, it’s not. Is it making everybody sick? No, it’s not. Do some people get sick? Yeah. Is that what’s causing it? Well, EPA says it is, but we really don’t know. But we’ve got predatory scientists who will say it is.”
Critics point out EPA’s new rules will place an increasing financial burden on poor and rural residents who rely on wood stoves as their primary source of heat.
EPA estimates the rule will cost $46 million.
States Take Action
Some states have already acted against the rules. In 2014, Michigan and Missouri passed legislation directing their respective state environmental agencies not to enforce federal wood stove emission standards.
Lawmakers in Minnesota, Virginia, West Virginia, and Wisconsin are considering similar legislation.
Ann N. Purvis ([email protected]) is an attorney in Dallas, Texas.