Wood stoves provide affordable, comfortable heat for a good number of Mainers, and are a reliable backup source of warmth for many more. They also produce pollution that exacerbates health problems such as asthma and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, both of which occur in Maine at rates higher than the national average.

The federal Environmental Protection Agency offered the start of a solution to that quandary last month, when it released stricter requirements for emissions from newly manufactured wood stoves.

But those requirements won’t do any good if the stoves don’t move off the assembly line and into spots now occupied by the aging stoves found in most homes. In that light, a more robust system of rebates and incentives is necessary to clear the air.

The new emission standards have been a long time coming. The upward limit of 7.5 grams per hour of fine particle pollution was set in 1988, though manufacturers have for some time followed the standard of 4.5 grams per hour on the books in Washington state.

Under the revised rules, manufacturers have until the end of 2015 to sell older, less clean models. After that, the standard will fall to 2 grams per hour by 2020.

The change will be felt in Maine, where 14 percent of residents use wood as a primary source of heat, while an estimated 50 percent use it as a secondary source, and use of wood has expanded at a high clip in the last decade or so. As a result, the state is in the top 5 for highest per capita pollutant emissions from wood stoves.

Some states are fighting the new standard. But wood pollution is harmful, and it can be tough on the tens of thousands of Mainers who suffer from asthma and COPD, as well as the elderly, who are particularly susceptible to the problems caused by even low concentrations of particle pollution.

In fact, the EPA estimates the reduced pollution from newer wood stoves will lead to one fewer premature death per day, and offer about $100 worth of public health benefits for every $1 of additional costs to the manufacturers who have to update their models.

But those benefits will only be realized if the new wood stoves come out of the box. That’s no sure thing given that many of the stoves in operation in Maine were put in place decades ago, often by residents who cannot afford an upgrade. And one manufacturer, Gorham-based Jotul, said the new rules will raise the cost of its most popular model by 15 percent, or $375.

Efficiency Maine offers a $500 rebate for people who buy a new wood stove, and some manufacturers, including Jotul, also offer some money back.

But more can be done. Last year, for instance, Massachusetts earmarked $800,000 for a program, funded by fines from out-of-state coal-burning plants, that offers low-income residents a $2,000 rebate and all others $1,000.

Maine could offer a similarly effective program, perhaps coupled with a more aggressive effort to install heat pumps in homes that now use primarily wood, relegating the stove to back-up duty. To save money, the state could target the rebates toward low-income residents as well as those who live in areas, such as valleys, where smoke tends to linger, causing the most harm.

The state also could push the creation of low-cost wood sheds, which keep wood dry and allow it to burn clean.

Any of those options would help keep the cost of heating down, and allow some Mainers to breathe a little easier.

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