EPA’s Wood-Burning Stove Ban Has Chilling Consequences For Many Rural People

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It seems that even wood isn’t green or renew­able enough any­more. The EPA has recent­ly banned the pro­duc­tion and sale of 80 per­cent of America’s cur­rent wood-burn­ing stoves, the old­est heat­ing method known to mankind and main­stay of rur­al homes and many of our nation’s poor­est res­i­dents. The agency’s strin­gent one-size-fits-all rules apply equal­ly to heav­i­ly air-pol­lut­ed cities and far clean­er plus typ­i­cal­ly cold­er off-grid wilder­ness areas such as large regions of Alas­ka and the Amer­i­can West.

While EPA’s most recent reg­u­la­tions aren’t alto­geth­er new, their impacts will nonethe­less be severe. Where­as restric­tions had pre­vi­ous­ly banned wood-burn­ing stoves that didn’t lim­it fine air­borne par­tic­u­late emis­sions to 15 micro­grams per cubic meter of air, the change will impose a max­i­mum 12 micro­gram lim­it. To put this amount in con­text, EPA esti­mates that sec­ond­hand tobac­co smoke in a closed car can expose a per­son to 3,000–4,000 micro­grams of par­tic­u­lates per cubic meter.

Most wood stoves that warm cab­in and home res­i­dents from coast-to-coast can’t meet that stan­dard. Old­er stoves that don’t can­not be trad­ed in for updat­ed types, but instead must be ren­dered inop­er­a­ble, destroyed, or recy­cled as scrap met­al.

The impacts of EPA’s rul­ing will affect many fam­i­lies. Accord­ing to the U.S. Cen­sus Bureau’s 2011 sur­vey sta­tis­tics, 2.4 mil­lion Amer­i­can hous­ing units (12 per­cent of all homes) burned wood as their pri­ma­ry heat­ing fuel, com­pared with 7 per­cent that depend­ed upon fuel oil.

Local LOCM +4.76% gov­ern­ments in some states have gone even fur­ther than EPA, not only ban­ning the sale of non­com­pli­ant stoves, but even their use as fire­places. As a result, own­ers face fines for infrac­tions. Puget Sound, Wash­ing­ton is one such loca­tion. Mon­tréal, Cana­da pro­pos­es to elim­i­nate all fire­places with­in its city lim­its.

Only weeks after EPA enact­ed its new stove rules, attor­neys gen­er­al of sev­en states sued the agency to crack down on wood-burn­ing water heaters as well. The law­suit was filed by Con­necti­cut, Mary­land, Mass­a­chu­setts, New York, Ore­gon, Rhode Island and Ver­mont, all pre­dom­i­nate­ly Demo­c­rat states. Claim­ing that EPA’s new reg­u­la­tions didn’t go far enough to decrease par­ti­cle pol­lu­tion lev­els, the plain­tiffs cit­ed agency esti­mates that out­door wood boil­ers will pro­duce more than 20 per­cent of wood-burn­ing emis­sions by 2017. A relat­ed suit was filed by the envi­ron­men­tal group Earth Jus­tice.

Did EPA require a moti­va­tion­al incen­tive to tight­en its restric­tions? Sure, about as much as Br’er Rab­bit need­ed to per­suade Br’er Fox to throw him into the bri­ar patch. This is but anoth­er exam­ple of 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.

Sue and set­tle “ prac­tices, some­times referred to as “friend­ly law­suits”, are cozy deals through which far-left rad­i­cal envi­ron­men­tal groups file law­suits against fed­er­al agen­cies where­in court-ordered “con­sent decrees” are issued based upon a pre­arranged set­tle­ment agree­ment they col­lab­o­ra­tive­ly craft togeth­er in advance behind closed doors. Then, rather than allow­ing the entire process to play out, the agency being sued set­tles the law­suit by agree­ing to move for­ward with the request­ed action both they and the lit­i­gants want.

And who pays for this lit­i­ga­tion? All-too-often we tax­pay­ers are put on the hook for legal fees of both col­lud­ing par­ties. Accord­ing to a 2011 GAO report, this amount­ed to mil­lions of dol­lars award­ed to envi­ron­men­tal orga­ni­za­tions for EPA lit­i­ga­tions between 1995 and 2010. Three “Big Green” groups received 41% of this pay­back, with Earth­jus­tice account­ing for 30 per­cent ($4,655,425). Two oth­er orga­ni­za­tions with his­to­ries of lob­by­ing for reg­u­la­tions EPA wants while also receiv­ing agency fund­ing are the Amer­i­can Lung Asso­ci­a­tion (ALA) and the Sier­ra Club.

In addi­tion, the Depart­ment of Jus­tice forked over at least $43 mil­lion of our mon­ey defend­ing EPA in court between 1998 and 2010. This didn’t include mon­ey spent by EPA for their legal costs in con­nec­tion with those rip-offs because EPA doesn’t keep track of their attorney’s time on a case-by-case basis.

The U.S. Cham­ber of Com­merce has con­clud­ed that Sue and Set­tle rule­mak­ing is respon­si­ble for many of EPA’s “most con­tro­ver­sial, eco­nom­i­cal­ly sig­nif­i­cant reg­u­la­tions that have plagued the busi­ness com­mu­ni­ty for the past few years”. Includ­ed are reg­u­la­tions on pow­er plants, refiner­ies, min­ing oper­a­tions, cement plants, chem­i­cal man­u­fac­tur­ers, and a host of oth­er indus­tries. Such con­sent decree-based rule­mak­ing enables EPA to argue to Con­gress: “The court made us do it.”

Direct­ing spe­cial atten­tion to these con­gres­sion­al end run prac­tices, Louisiana Sen­a­tor David Vit­ter, top Repub­li­can on the Sen­ate Envi­ron­ment and Pub­lic Works Com­mit­tee, has launched an inves­ti­ga­tion. Last year he asked his Louisiana Attor­ney Gen­er­al Bud­dy Cald­well to join with AGs of 13 oth­er states who filed a Free­dom of Infor­ma­tion Act (FOIA) seek­ing all cor­re­spon­dence between EPA and a list of 80 envi­ron­men­tal, labor union and pub­lic inter­est orga­ni­za­tions that have been par­ty to lit­i­ga­tion since the start of the Oba­ma admin­is­tra­tion.

Oth­er con­cerned and impact­ed par­ties have lit­tle influ­ence over such court pro­ce­dures and deci­sions. While the envi­ron­men­tal group is giv­en a seat at the table, out­siders who are most impact­ed are exclud­ed, with no oppor­tu­ni­ty to object to the set­tle­ments. No pub­lic notice about the set­tle­ment is released until the agree­ment is filed in court…after the dam­age has been done.

In a let­ter to Cald­well, Sen­a­tor Vit­ter wrote: “The col­lu­sion between fed­er­al bureau­crats and the orga­ni­za­tions enter­ing con­sent agree­ments under a shroud of secre­cy rep­re­sents the antithe­sis of a trans­par­ent gov­ern­ment, and your par­tic­i­pa­tion in the FOIA request will help Louisianans under­stand the process by which these set­tle­ments were reached.”

Few­er cit­i­zens would chal­lenge EPA’s reg­u­la­to­ry deter­mi­na­tions were it not for its lack of account­abil­i­ty and trans­paren­cy in accom­plish­ing through a rene­gade pat­tern of actions what they can­not achieve through demo­c­ra­t­ic leg­isla­tive process­es.

A recent exam­ple sets unachiev­able CO2 emis­sion lim­its for new pow­er plants. As I report­ed in my Jan­u­ary 14 col­umn, a group with­in EPA’s own Sci­ence Advi­so­ry Board (SAB) deter­mined that the stud­ies upon which that reg­u­la­tion was based had nev­er been respon­si­bly peer reviewed, and that there was no evi­dence that those lim­its can be accom­plished using avail­able tech­nol­o­gy.

Com­pared with huge con­se­quences of EPA’s reg­u­la­to­ry war on coal, the fuel source that pro­vides more than 40 per­cent of America’s elec­tric­i­ty, a clamp-down on hum­ble res­i­den­tial wood-burn­ing stoves and future water heaters may seem to many peo­ple as a mere­ly a tri­fling or incon­se­quen­tial mat­ter. That is, unless it hap­pens to sig­nif­i­cant­ly affect your per­son­al life.

As a Wash­ing­ton Times edi­to­r­i­al empha­sized, the ban is of great con­cern to many fam­i­lies in cold remote off-grid loca­tions. It not­ed, for exam­ple, that “Alaska’s 663,000 square miles is most­ly forest­land, offer­ing res­i­dents and abun­dant source of afford­able fire­wood. When coun­ty offi­cials float­ed a plan to reg­u­late the burn­ing of wood, res­i­dents were under­stand­ably inflamed.”

Quot­ing Rep­re­sen­ta­tive Tam­mie Wil­son speak­ing to the Asso­ci­at­ed Press, the Times report­ed: “Every­one wants clean air. We just want to make sure that we can also heat our homes” Wil­son con­tin­ued: “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 as the imme­di­ate risk of freez­ing when the mer­cury plunges.”

And speak­ing of the­o­ret­i­cal com­put­er mod­el-based warn­ings, where’s that glob­al warm­ing when we real­ly need it?