Here in Maine, burning wood is not just a source of comfort on a cold winter day; it is a necessity. With the high cost of oil, many of us either use wood as a heating supplement or rely on it as our home’s primary heating source. In some parts of Maine, winter storms leave residents without electricity for weeks. While they are waiting to get reconnected to the power grid, they rely on wood stoves to provide heat and make it possible to cook food.
Burning wood is cost-effective and environmentally safe, but new regulations proposed by the federal Environmental Protection Agency will make it harder and more expensive. The new rules are designed to reduce pollution, but they also threaten to eliminate hundreds of good jobs that go along with manufacturing and selling stoves as well as supplying fuel to burn.
And they may make air quality worse.
Stoves currently manufactured are required to emit no more than 15 micrograms of airborne particulate emissions per cubic meter of air. The new rules would reduce that threshold to 12 micrograms. To put this into context, Forbes Magazine noted that “secondhand tobacco smoke in a closed car can expose a person to 3,000-4,000 micrograms of particulates per cubic meter.” One wonders how such a miniscule reduction (3 micrograms) will have any meaningful impact and at what cost.
Wood stoves being manufactured today already eliminate most of the pollutants that older stoves emit. In order to comply with the new mandates, however, wood stove manufacturers will be required to re-engineer their plants. The president of a wood stove company that has a business in Gorham estimates that it will cost $1 million to adapt its factory to allow them to build stoves meeting the emissions standards that will be in place by 2019. Those costs have to be added to the stoves the company manufactures, adding hundreds of dollars to the cost of each new stove. Add to that the extra cost of maintaining these new stoves.
An unintended consequence of the new EPA regulations will be that consumers will be less likely to invest in a new wood stove. Millions of old, inefficient wood stoves that emit far more pollution will not get replaced. We should be encouraging consumers to buy modern woods toves that burn much more cleanly than older models. Instead, we will be discouraging them to invest in these newer stoves by moving the goal posts and putting the cost of buying one out of reach.
Before any new regulations are allowed to become law, there needs to be a study to determine whether these rules will, in fact, improve air quality or cause it to decline.
Finally, I need to speak about the jobs these new regulations would compromise. The jobs of 70 Maine workers who build stoves for a well-known manufacturer along with the retail shops across Maine whose employees sell, service and install woodstoves could be in jeopardy.
As a wood stove retailer, I have spent many hours with customers who are purchasing a wood stove, and it is very clear to me that the price increases that will come as a result of the new air quality regulations undoubtedly will have a negative impact on a customer’s decision to buy a cleaner burning wood stove. It would be irresponsible to cause a major price increase on already efficient and clean burning wood stoves to attempt minor improvement of a few micrograms of airborne particulates. That money and effort could be better spent on other areas of pollution control that would produce much greater results.
This proposal by the EPA will have minimal, if any, net improvement on air quality, but it will have a significant financial impact on Maine homeowners who choose to heat their homes with a wood stove, at a time that it’s least affordable.
Sen. Rod Whittemore, R-Skowhegan, represents Senate District 26 and serves on the Legislature’s Insurance and Financial Services Committee.