A close up shot of a fire using wooden logs.

Wood-Fired Pollution

Wood-burn­ing devices emit pol­lu­tants that endan­ger human health, includ­ing fine par­tic­u­late mat­ter, car­bon monox­ide and poly­cyclic aro­mat­ic hydro­car­bons. In March 2015, in response to a law­suit brought by New York and oth­er states, the Envi­ron­men­tal Pro­tec­tion Agency (EPA) final­ized a rule to reduce pol­lu­tion from new res­i­den­tial wood heaters, includ­ing wood boil­ers, wood heaters and forced-air fur­naces, through a two-step process. Man­u­fac­tur­ers and retail­ers had to com­ply with the rule’s first air pol­lu­tion lim­its for new res­i­den­tial wood heat­ing units by May 2015 (step-one stan­dards) and the rule’s more strin­gent sec­ond air pol­lu­tion lim­its by May 2020 (step-two standards).

2017-2021

  • Novem­ber 2018

    In Novem­ber 2018, EPA released a pro­posed rule that would sig­nif­i­cant­ly weak­en the 2015 rule. In par­tic­u­lar, the pro­pos­al would autho­rize a two-year sell-through peri­od, allow­ing retail­ers to sell new boil­ers and fur­naces that com­ply with the less strin­gent step-one stan­dards – but not the step-two stan­dards – until May 2022; two years beyond the com­pli­ance dead­line for the step-two stan­dards in the 2015 rule.

  • Jan­u­ary 2019

    In Jan­u­ary 2019, New York Attor­ney Gen­er­al Leti­tia James led a coali­tion of sev­en attor­neys gen­er­al in sub­mit­ting com­ments opposed to the pro­posed rule. The com­ments not­ed that EPA failed to pro­vide any jus­ti­fi­ca­tion for allow­ing the con­tin­ued sale of boil­ers and fur­naces that only com­ply with the less strin­gent step-one stan­dards two years past the com­pli­ance date in the 2015 rule for the step-two stan­dards. The pro­pos­al ignored EPA’s 2015 find­ings that set­ting lim­its on fine par­tic­u­late mat­ter for wood burn­ing devices would reduce pre­ma­ture deaths by 360 to 810 peo­ple and avoid 48,000 lost work­days. Fur­ther, the attor­neys gen­er­al point­ed out that the pro­pos­al would result in as much as two decades of harm­ful air pol­lu­tion due to the life expectan­cies of wood boil­ers and forced-air furnaces.

  • April 2020

    In April 2020, the EPA issued a final rule in which it decid­ed not to autho­rize the two-year sell-through peri­od allow­ing man­u­fac­tur­ers to sell non-com­pli­ant boil­ers and fur­naces beyond the May 2020 com­pli­ance dead­line. The EPA con­clud­ed that man­u­fac­tur­ers had pre­sent­ed insuf­fi­cient data to demon­strate that a sell-through peri­od was necessary.

  • May 2020

    One month lat­er, in May 2020, the EPA issued a pro­posed rule to amend the new source per­for­mance stan­dards to allow for yet anoth­er sell-through peri­od allow­ing man­u­fac­tur­ers to sell non-com­pli­ant wood heaters, wood boil­ers, and forced-air fur­naces until Novem­ber 30, 2020. The EPA cit­ed the impact of the COVID-19 pan­dem­ic on retail­ers as jus­ti­fi­ca­tion for the sell-through peri­od, although the agency failed to quan­ti­fy the addi­tion­al emis­sions of par­tic­u­late mat­ter that would result from the sell-through peri­od or present a cost-ben­e­fit analy­sis or reg­u­la­to­ry impact state­ment with its pro­pos­al. The EPA also indi­cat­ed that it will not take enforce­ment action against retail­ers while the rule is pending.

  • July 2020

    In July 2020, a coali­tion of eleven attor­neys gen­er­al led by Attor­ney Gen­er­al James filed com­ments oppos­ing the EPA’s pro­pos­al. In their com­ments, the attor­neys gen­er­al high­light­ed that the pro­pos­al would vio­late the Clean Air Act and lead to increased par­tic­u­late mat­ter pol­lu­tion, harm­ful health effects, and mor­bid­i­ty in the midst of a res­pi­ra­to­ry health pan­dem­ic. The attor­neys gen­er­al also not­ed that only one month pri­or to this pro­pos­al, the EPA con­clud­ed that there was insuf­fi­cient evi­dence demon­strat­ing the need for a sell-through peri­od. The coali­tion urged the EPA to not final­ize the pro­posed rule that would pre­vent the pub­lic from real­iz­ing the full ben­e­fits of the 2015 stan­dards until well after the step-two 2020 com­pli­ance deadline.