Some people unhappy with EPA's new restrictions on wood-burning heaters


The Environmental Protection Agency is getting backlash from lawmakers around the country for its new regulations on wood-burning heaters.

Residential wood burning is a primary source of pollutant concerns in Minnesota (and also nationally), so last month the EPA announced standards to limit the amount of pollutants wood-burning heaters can emit.

Minnesota ranks third in emissions from residential wood burning, The Associated Press reported. And those fine particle emissions can cause serious health problems, including asthma, chronic bronchitis and nonfatal heart attacks, the EPA says.

Here's a look at what the new standards mean, and why some lawmakers don't like them.

The EPA's new standards

The EPA says improved technology is now available that would make the heaters cleaner and more efficient.

These new regulations will reduce emissions by roughly two-thirds, improving air quality and providing millions of dollars in public health benefits, the EPA said.

These regulations, which haven't been updated since 1988, will be phased in over a five-year period and won't apply to existing heaters.

The EPA designed its standards based on regulations cities and states have put in place to reduce pollutant concerns, as well as recommendations from heating manufacturers and air quality agencies, the EPA notes.

Lawmakers oppose EPA's rules

Lawmakers in several of the biggest wood-burning states are in the process of passing legislation barring their environmental agencies from enforcing the new standards, The Associated Press reported, saying residents will literally be left out in the cold.

There's a potential wood domino effect in play here:

Lawmakers are worried low-income residents won't be able to afford the new wood-burning heaters if their older models break – for some, burning wood can be cheaper than heating homes with other fuels, the AP noted.

The new standards for wood-burning heaters is expected to cost manufacturers more, the Citizen Times says, which could then result in more expensive heaters for consumers.

The added expense could mean some smaller wood heat manufacturers will close, reports note. Minnesota is home to 35 wood heat companies, which is about 6 percent of the U.S. industry, the EPA says.

Minnesota lawmakers aren't pushing legislation to push back against those EPA proposals. Not yet, at least.

Rep. Paul Anderson of Starbuck told The Associated Press the changes being phased in this year are doable for manufacturers, but in the long run there's concern about costs of complying with them.

While other critics of the EPA's new standards say they aren't doing enough to reduce emissions, reports note.

Wood burning on the rise

About 10-12 percent of U.S. households burn wood for some form of heat, the EPA found, with the number of households relying on wood-fueled heaters as their primary heat source rising nearly one-third from 2005 to 2012, The AP noted.

In Minnesota, about 1.1 million households (53 percent) burn wood, an increase over past years, a 2011-12 Minnesota Pollution Control Agency survey found.

Roughly 11.5 percent of households that burn wood in Minnesota do so as a primary heating source, while 11.6 percent use wood for a secondary heat source.

More than 80 percent of Minnesotans who burn wood do so for pleasure, while 32.8 percent burn wood camping.

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