By Cheryl K. Chumley / NEWSMAX
The Environmental Protection Agency recently imposed restrictions on wood-burning stoves that will deal a blow to rural Americans who rely on wood to heat their homes. Critics charge that the rule changes were enacted following pressure from environmental groups.
The EPA tightened restrictions in January on the level of fine airborne particulate emissions that wood-burning stoves can emit, from 15 micrograms per cubic meter to a maximum of 12 micrograms. The EPA restrictions would ban the production and sale of the kinds of wood-burning stoves that compose 80 percent of those currently in use in the United States, Forbes reported.
In the face of tightening economies and rising heating costs, more Americans have been turning to cheaper, archaic sources for heat, especially those in poorer areas. The number of households heating with wood grew 34 percent from 2000 to 2010, with 2.4 million homes, or 2.1 percent of U.S. housing units, using wood as their primary heating source, according to the U.S. Census Bureau. Nearly 10 million additional homes use wood to supplement their primary heat source, the U.S. Energy Information Administration disclosed.
Huggins said environmentalists should cheer the use of this energy source. "Fuel for wood heating is a renewable resource, and under the right circumstances can be local and sustainable," Huggins said. But pressure from environmental groups has been responsible for many of the EPA rule changes.
In October, attorneys general for some of the most liberal states — Massachusetts, Connecticut, Maryland, Rhode Island, Vermont, New York, and Oregon — filed suits against the EPA seeking restrictions on wood-burning heaters. The environmental group Earthjustice jumped on the bandwagon and filed its own suit against the federal agency. The suit sought to force the EPA "to update clean air standards that limit emissions from new outdoor wood boilers, furnaces, and other similar sources that discharge large volumes of smoke and soot," said Earthjustice, which filed the action along with other environmental and health groups, including the American Lung Association, Environmental Defense Fund, Clean Air Council, and Environment and Human Health, Inc.
The new EPA mandate has all the markings of a "sue-and-settle" scheme between the government and environmentalists, critics charge.
Sue-and-settle suits are filed by environmentalists as a means of winning "consent decrees" that are parlayed into regulations the environmentalist groups wanted in the first place. "This is but another example of the EPA and other government agencies working with activist environmental groups to sue and settle on claims that afford leverage to enact new regulations which they lack statutory authority to otherwise accomplish," Forbes reported.
William Yeatman, a senior fellow with the Competitive Enterprise Institute, told Newsmax: "EPA engages in sweetheart litigation in order to cede its regulatory initiative to green special interests like the Sierra Club. "Virtually all of EPA's air quality regulations were prompted by such sue-and-settle litigation, the occurrence of which has exploded since President Obama assumed the Oval Office," Yeatman said, adding that the wood-burning stove regulation "is only the latest example of policy-making." The EPA "has targeted oil, gas, coal, and nuclear with needless regulations," Yeatman said. "Now the agency is going after wood — a biofuel."
Pressure from the federal government is contributing to states seeking further restrictions on wood-burning stoves, Alaska state Rep. Tammie Wilson said. Alaskan officials are worried about losing "federal highway funds," Wilson told Newsmax. "These new EPA proposed bans on wood-stove burns are absolutely the reaction to 'sue and settle.' Alaska should push back on the EPA and not do their dirty work. A governmental agency should not be allowed to shut down a resident's right to utilize a certified appliance burning approved fuels."
Wilson, a Republican who's been tracking the federal crackdown on wood stoves, says the state environmental agency has taken up the mantra and implemented even tighter rules for residents. "The Alaska Division of Environment Conservation has proposed stricter regulations for our area," including restrictions on "wintertime outdoor open burning" in certain areas, Wilson said.
The state agency also set tight limits on particulate emission levels for new wood-fired heating devices and put local air quality agents in charge of declaring "air quality episodes and advisories," with power "to take immediate action — voluntary and/or mandatory shutdowns of solid fuel-burning devices," Wilson said. "Rather than fret over EPA's computer model-based warning about the dangers of inhaling soot from wood smoke, residents have more pressing concerns on their minds such as the immediate risk of freezing when the mercury plunges," Wilson told The Associated Press.