EPA ban on wood stoves is freezing out rural America

Wood_StoveBy Larry Bell

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 the 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 (μg/m3) of air, the change will impose a maximum 12 μg/m3 limit. To put this amount in context, the EPA estimates that secondhand tobacco smoke in a closed car can expose a person to 3,000-4,000 μg/m3 of particulates.

Most wood stoves that warm cabin and home residents from coast to coast cannot 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 the EPA 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 governments in some states have gone even further than the EPA, banning not only 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 the 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 predominantly Democrat states. Claiming that the new EPA 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 EarthJustice.

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 percent 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 fundng 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 the EPA in court between 1998 and 2010. This didn’t include money spent by the EPA for its legal costs in connection with those ripoffs, because the EPA doesn’t keep track of its attorneys’ 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 AG’s 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 the 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 the 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 the 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 the 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?

CFACT Advisor Larry Bell heads the graduate program in space architecture at the University of Houston. He founded and directs the Sasakawa International Center for Space Architecture. He is also the author of “Climate of Corruption: Politics and Power Behind the Global Warming Hoax.” 

  • aRareSaneOne

    Think of the fossil fuels not burned and saved if we can warm the atmosphere UP 5 degrees and not have to burn so much to stay warm 70% of the time that heating is required. It’s like the light bulb foolishness- the less efficient incandescent bulbs actually help heat homes for 9 months out of the year that heating is required, so NONE of the electric is wasted – except summertime, when bulbs are used less, as the days are much longer. Get a clue, you artsy Liberal Chicken Littles with no science/engineering background!

  • RogueRat

    MOLON LABE

  • reggiec

    If a government obtains complete control over energy sources, their use and allocation; they also obtain complete control over every aspect of society.
    It is not about pollution; it is a blatant move for absolute control.

  • sooner4ever

    So what do they propose to do about spring dead grass burns to keep land from being overgrown with weeds and other plants? Maybe it can outlaw God as well, since forest fires and other range fires that are the result of lightning seem to occur quit frequently as well. Go get ‘em you, sorry government slugs!!!

  • okseabat

    Delete EPA permanently. 99% of our economic woes would be solved. Congress needs to eliminate the power of all of Obama’s disastrous policies designed to devastate this country financially and politically. A one world country and control by the world financial system” the brotherhood of darkness” Graduate scholars of Oxford College financed by Cecil John Rhodes, south African diamond mogul, (Rhodes’ Scholars) of which many of our presidents, higher ranking Military and political leaders are graduates. Bill Clinton is one of them. A society banned together for world domination and financial control. Ever wonder why a fatherless nobody is so powerful?

  • USACITIZEN97

    MAY BE THEY WILL BAN WILD FOREST FIRES. THE FIRES IN JUST ONE STATE IS MUCH MORE THAN ALL THE WOOD STOVES IN THE COUNTRY…:::… CARBON DIOXIDE HAS NOTHING TO DO WITH GLOBAL WARMING…:::…. THE ONLY THING TO CAUSE ANY GLOBAL WARMING IS JUST THE NATURAL WARMING AND COOLING OF THE EARTH FOR CENTURIES. FOR THE LAST 16 YEARS THE EARTH HAS BEEN COOLING WITH THE POLAR ICE CAPS GETTING DEEPER

  • jwatersphd

    All the finer points aside, has anyone ever actually SEEN a mountain town where wood and coal burning fireplaces and stoves are used extensively? Maybe not, but I have, all over the West in the 1960s. Eye-burning smog in Vail, with a population under 1000? A permanent blue haze over West Yellowstone? Smog in Taos? There has to be some common sense, without question, but your commonplace wood burning fireplace or stove does NOT belong in every house in a town of any size. The matter has to be resolved with the needs of the people involved taken into account, but I talked with people in those towns and they were sick of it, too. You don’t see it now . . . but if you do, you’ll know there has to be a better way.

  • chthompson

    The entire government has become nothing more than a evil scam. Time to start over after putting these criminals on trial.

  • Snidely70448

    Be better for the rural areas if the city vermin stayed out, EPA included. 150 years ago the South fought a war against the city vermin who thought they knew what was best for country folk. Could happen again.

  • jwatersphd

    Yeah, well, these aren’t city vermin. These are people that live there, and they have a pretty damn good idea what’s good for them, and it’s not breathing wood smoke. Just because it’s the “oldest” heating method doesn’t make it a good one. Bad health and unpleasant environments due to crappy technology have happened all over the world. We got beyond that in a lot of places, and they’re happy enough to heat with better methods. They don’t need city folk to tell them it’s better.

    You think the people that live in small towns all around the West or anywhere else are going to start a war over their right to live like Medieval peasants or cave dwellers? Must know some different small town people from the ones I know.

    I don’t know what it’s got to do with the issue, but the South fought a war because they knew it was best for “country folk” to hold slaves. That is, “country folk” who were white. It doesn’t take “city folk” to know that’s not right … or are you arguing that it was? Lincoln wasn’t a “city folk.” Or maybe you thought he was an elitist meddler.

  • Public_Citizen

    Seems to me that EPA Bureaucrats and the Enviro-Wingnut organizations that are arranging these deals need to be prosecuted for Conspiracy To Defraud The Federal Government for the costs of the lawsuits, the wasting of valuable court resources, and the time and costs related to the writing of the resulting regulations.
    Could be a small goldmine here for some enterprising legal group who arranges to receive a “finders fee” from the recovery of the stolen resources.

  • Public_Citizen

    I feel confident in stating that if wood burning heating appliances designed and built to the current standards were available in the 60s a great amount of the problem would have been eliminated by people choosing higher efficiency and lower emitting appliances to replace old units or for new installations.
    In the 1960s the only significant change in wood heating appliances since the revolutionary invention of the Franklin Stove was the substitution of steel for iron in the construction. All of the currently available technology started to be developed with the “Go Solar” movement in the 1970s with its concurrent “back to nature” movement.

    I’m old enough to remember the propaganda blaming all of the smog problems of Southern California on the ubiquitous backyard incinerator.
    We’ve since realized that the real culprit is a combination of a persistent inversion layer acting like a lid on the series of connected valleys that form the SoCal landscape and the unmoderated emissions from internal combustion engines and various other smaller sources of pollutants.
    The incinerators are long gone and in their wake we have massive fleets of smog creating trash trucks busily working to fill up the increasingly scares locations where refuse may be disposed of in a sanitary landfill.
    There are no easy or “one size fits all” solutions to the problems created by pollution. Sometimes solutions require time for the technology to be invented to fix the current problem. Often the “fix” creates another set of problems to be dealt with [see incinerators and landfills above]. The most powerful fix for all of these problems is human self interest. When you can demonstrate to most people that a switch from the way things are currently being done will save them money or make their life more comfortable at minimal increase in expense then the change will be eagerly embraced. Heavy handed bureaucrats attempting to engage in sledgehammer like “fixes” will only break the system and make other problems [in this case the likelihood of the side effects from freezing showing an increase in occurrence - everything from burst pipes to people getting sick] grow at a faster rate.

  • http://profiles.google.com/sanddog Ms Anonymous

    Smog in Taos? Are you insane? There are still a lot of wood burning stoves in Taos (I travel through there frequently) and the only time you ever notice smoke or pollution is when there are forest fires to the south. During the Los Alamos fire, smoke blanketed the entire valley and severely reduced visibility. Wood burning stoves in the dead of the coldest winter don’t even make a blip on the landscape.

  • Jeff Brodhead

    Evil Progressive Agenda!

  • Greg

    You are exactly right, RougeRat. Molon labe. Come get my wood stoves but whoever does will be looking into the wrong end of the firearm of my choice.

  • bob570

    I’ve witnessed this collusion between the Gov. and so called Environmentalists first hand . First a Gov. agency finds themselves a Lawyer, and offers them grant money to set up an environmental group, in my case an Autobahn chapter. Then when something, in this case a property development, was going to happen that the agency couldn’t legally stop, the Autobahn chapter brought an Enviro suit against the development.

  • eelet

    Is the EPA filing suits against fire-fighters in our forests for polluting the atmosphere for setting ‘back fires’?.. … .One forest fire pollutes in one day, enough to heat 10,000 homes in one month. Are we out of our friggin minds?. .. …Our corrupt EPA would rather people freeze to death, than burn wood for heat.. ..How ignorant.

  • Father Dacius

    The majority of southern soldiers were not slave owners, indeed their method of agriculture did not require it and they were too poor in any case. The Confederate soldier was motivated by a an inborn distrust of gentrified elitists having the gall to tell what they should do.They were born anti- authoritarianists.

  • jwatersphd

    And, as we know, they were brutally repressed by a tyrant, usurper, lawyer (!) from Illinois. We don’t know, but ought to suspect, that he was an actual Muslim, whose birth certificate was probably a fake. Why else would he side with Africans? I mean, specifically, Lincoln, that gentrified elitist, nattering nabob of negativity, effete intellectual snob. He wore a top hat! Who knows what he might have done had not JW “sic semper tyrannus” Booth shot him – clearly a classic “2nd amendment solution.” No doubt, he would have established Nazi-ism in the re-United States. Obamacare is peanuts compared to the Civil War.

    Of course, the entire economy of the Confederate states, which is what the southern soldiers, whether they could afford to own someone else or not, were trying to defend, was based on slavery. The “gall” to tell them that they couldn’t own, and dispose of, as they liked, other people as slaves!!! Now, there’s a real threat to freedom. I suppose you think we should be dancing on Lincoln’s grave, rather than having a taxpayer-supported Monument to him. If we were really still free, we’d be able to own slaves today. Let’s take our country back.

    Lots of people resent others telling them what to do, if that’s a virtue. And they don’t have to be born in the South. We’ve got Al Capone and the rest of the Mafia, from Italy… Maybe even the great Satan, Obama, resents people telling him what to do. Is it worse to be told you shouldn’t own slaves, or that you can’t set up a protection racket? Let’s all celebrate resentment of being told what to do. Hell, I even resent being told what to do by people who aren’t gentrified or elitists. I see you’ve got your gun so you can avoid that… the motto being, apparently, “pray and keep your powder dry.” I guess your God’s like the police… never there when you really need him, so get yourself a gun.

  • Steve

    SO what happens when you lose power for an extended amount of time in the middle of winter. If you have gas and it the price gets too high. The permit I get is $7.50 per cord. It is much cheaper to cut your own wood than it is to heat with electricity/gas/propane. The wood most of us cut is dead, beetle killed trees. Which by doing so helps forest health and lessens the potential for large scale forest fires. I live in small town in Northern Wyoming where just about every home has a wood stove. The only people that I have ever heard complain are those who moved here from big-cities in other states.

  • Libsare Ajoke

    are you an obama fellationist?

  • Libsare Ajoke

    you clearly dream of licking the obama testicles

  • jwatersphd

    Your use of prejudicial terminology makes me wonder – are we really on the same page? Is there anything that would outweigh your desire to have cheap fuel? If so, maybe we are. So, instead of people who “moved here from big cities in other states,” let’s try this: Suppose you and your close-by neighbors are downhill and upwind from a trailer park filled with people who were born in your town, and the school their children attend, and your smoke, day and night, blows or drifts into the trailer park and school so that no one there can open their windows or go outside without risking their health or wearing a respirator. Even living indoors is intolerable without an air conditioner or some other filter. Would you still say it’s OK? If not, I think we are in agreement. Since you mention other favorable effects to your wood burning, I’d assume you recognize that other things are important. In that case, we are in a trade-off situation, where a variety of interests have to be balanced. Sometimes that can happen and everyone is satisfied, and sometimes not.

    As to your specific scenario, probably most reasonable people wouldn’t have an objection to your wood burning, especially at a time of shortage. That doesn’t mean it’s a good idea or even safe in crowded localities, where inversions occur, and the smoke is concentrated and persistent, and harmful to health. Then, good government and problem solving would probably lead us to an arrangement to ameliorate one problem without putting an intolerable burden on you. Finally, I would submit that arriving at such arrangements to solve the wide variety of problems and conflicts that arise in our complex society is not easy, and to trot out an isolated case is fine for making one point – affordable fuel might have other benefits (forest health), and little downside (in remote small communities) – but we have to look beyond isolated cases to get a workable solution for the country as a whole.

    So your response certainly clarifies part of the problem but it doesn’t do us much good in terms of the larger one.

  • Outback

    I’m one of those people who live in a very remote area and I rely on wood to heat my home. If any of these EPA jokers comes to tell me I can’t use my wood stove I hope it is in the dead of winter because they will be walking back out naked.

  • KaD

    This is utterly ridiculous. Concerning the current state of the economy how does the EPA think people are going to be able to AFFORD to change out their wood burning equipment? More government overreach is definitely NOT needed.

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  • KaD

    If that’s really what ‘the people who live there’ think then they would VOLUNTARILY stop burning wood and wouldn’t need the 800 pound gorilla/EPA to MAKE THEM.

  • GM_Man

    Sorry Jwater, I don’t know where you live but I AM one of those mountain town dwellers and I heat and cook with my wood stoves. Sorry you don’t like my lifestyle. I don’t like yours. If yiou walk into my home, or the home of any of my neighbors and tell me my stoves are illegal they have to go and you may not see the sun rise the following day. We live up here because we don’t like folks from the valley telling us what we can and can’t do. You want to show attitude by trolling online and posting crap, enjoy yourself. But you really want to grow some stones and drop by some day. ‘Till then keep your head low and out of Northern New England.

  • jwatersphd

    Sure, it’s simple.

  • jwatersphd

    I don’t have any particular feelings about your lifestyle. But if it’s hurting other people, I’m going to be the least of your problems. So maybe you should take a cold shower and keep your “stones” safe. I’ve been “up there” most of my life and most of the people I know are friendly, polite and considerate of their neighbors and the larger society. People whose basic reaction is a threat of violence are fortunately in the minority.

  • ron17571

    Agenda 21 stuff. All the talk of global warming/climate change is nothing but a way to tax and control people.

  • Dan

    The issue of “eye burning smog” was addressed by Ms Anonymous and Public_Citizen but I will throw my 2 cents in by saying we have heated completely with wood and have for the last 22 years. Mostly I use pallets and waste wood that would be sent to the landfill. All of the commercially available stoves have no visible smoke when they are up to temperature. Very few states allow the 55 gal DYI wood burners that don’t have secondary burn systems and other modern additions that reduce emissions. If your neighbor is smoking you out because he is using an inefficient stove or can’t build a fire, this should be dealt with on a local level, not a national, one-size-fits-all model.

  • jwatersphd

    Sounds good. I am and was talking about the old days when you would get problems of this sort. Obviously, if those problems had not existed there would not have been a need for the advanced models now available. The argument should be about a balance between cost to the individual and cost to society, rather than whether individuals have the “right” to do whatever they please regardless what problems it creates. They don’t.

  • ractivist

    After reading many of the posts, it’s evident we know it’s about control, not pollution. How do we combat a tyrannical gov. By civil disobedience, and standing for your neighbors…….the time has come. Don’t pay your taxes in April, put it off as long as possible, pay the small fines…. rally around the tyranny that shows up in your local gov. No single person is going to fix this mess, but we the people unified thru knowledge and appropriate action can put a serious wrench in their machinery. Remember, an army runs on it’s stomach, deep pantry’s are a must. The end of the world as we knew it, is soon to be over. Prepare accordingly.

  • Eatie Gourmet

    I know mine is a late-to-the-party reply, but I’m curious as to how you would have people heat their homes.

  • jwatersphd

    Depends on the situation you are referring to. In the situation just above, where the smoke from one group’s wood burning stove is poisoning people downwind and uphill, all I can say is they have a problem. How would you have them heat their homes?

  • Eatie Gourmet

    When the temperatures stay below freezing for weeks on end, I think the only need is for people to heat their homes. By whatever means necessary.
    I don’t think anyone wants to choke the neighbors, but at the same time more and more people are beginning to have a visceral reaction to the lengthy roster of new regulations that come from the EPA and other government agencies, tens of thousands of new regulations every year that can make one a felon without doing anything differently than they’ve done their whole lives. As one poster stated, it is about control at its root.
    Americans are a cooperative people, for the most part we get along with one another. But we also have a long history of resenting government control of our lives, which is occurring more frequently, attempting to invade every nook and cranny of our homes, our vehicles, our lives, and indeed, even our thoughts . The EPA SWAT teams create more than exasperation and resentment, it borders on rage.
    That’s what these commenters have been getting at. Its not about ‘poisoning one’s neighbors’ at will, its about ‘Enough is Enough, leave us alone’.

  • Undecider

    They don’t care. It’s about crushing us. How much will the American public put up with?

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