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Post date: October 9 2013

A.G. Schneiderman Leads Coalition Suing EPA For Failing To Adequately Limit Pollution From Residential Wood Heaters

Despite Clean Air Act Requirements, Agency's Existing Limits Haven't Been Updated in 25 Years; Ignore Outdoor Wood Boilers, One Of The Most Common And Polluting Devices.

Schneiderman: Smoke From Residential Wood-Burning Heaters Poses A Serious Public Health Threat In New York Communities

NEW YORK – Leading a coalition of seven states, New York State Attorney General Eric T. Schneiderman today announced the filing of a lawsuit against the federal Environmental Protection Agency for violating the Clean Air Act by failing to adequately limit air pollution emissions from new residential wood heaters.  In the legal papers, Schneiderman's coalition contends that the EPA's existing emissions limits, which haven't been revised in 25 years, are outdated and leave out popular types of residential wood heaters -- including outdoor wood boilers, which have proliferated in many areas of New York.

“EPA's regulations simply haven't kept pace with the proliferation of wood-burning devices or the availability of cleaner-burning units.  Smoke from residential wood-burning heaters poses a serious health threat, especially in New York’s rural communities,” Attorney General Schneiderman said. “This lawsuit aims to force the EPA to comply with the Clean Air Act and provide overdue leadership in requiring new wood heaters to meet stricter pollution standards – an action that will save consumers money, improve local air quality and safeguard public health.”

Wood smoke contains several pollutants, including fine particulate matter (soot), that are linked to serious public health impacts, including asthma attacks, heart attacks and premature death.  Wood smoke can also cause short-term effects such as eye, nose, throat and lung irritation and shortness of breath. According to recent EPA data, soot emitted from wood-burning devices comprises 13 percent of all soot pollution in the country.  Moreover, several studies have found that residential wood combustion is responsible for potentially dangerous short-term spikes in soot air pollution, especially in rural areas.

Under the Clean Air Act, EPA must set pollution emission limits, called New Source Performance Standards or NSPS, for categories of emission sources that “cause, or contribute significantly to, air pollution which may reasonably be anticipated to endanger public health and welfare.”  Importantly, the agency must review and, as appropriate, revise these limits at least every eight years to ensure they keep pace with advances in pollution control technologies. The limits apply to new or substantially modified sources

In 1988, EPA concluded that pollutants in wood smoke endanger public health and that residential wood heaters must be regulated under the Clean Air Act's NSPS provision. That same year, the agency set a NSPS limit for soot emissions by these devices. At the same time, EPA exempted heating devices that fall under the category of “boilers.” These 1988 standards remain on the books today, despite the development of much cleaner-burning stoves and the proliferation of outdoor wood boilers for residential heating.

A 2008 study by the New York State Attorney General's Office’s Environmental Protection Bureau found that outdoor wood boilers emit far more soot than other residential wood heaters—about 12 times as much soot as EPA-certified wood stoves, 1,000 times as much as oil furnaces and 1,800 times as much as gas furnaces. According to the report, the annual rate of outdoor wood boiler sales in the state probably increased threefold between 1999 and 2007, with an estimated 14,500 units sold in the state during those years.

Since the adoption of NSPS limits in 1988, three eight-year review periods mandated by the Clean Air Act have come and gone (1996, 2004, 2012) without the agency completing even one review of the limits.  In the absence of EPA limits, the agency has established a voluntary program to encourage the purchase of cleaner-burning outdoor wood boilers. However, that program has not proven effective.   

Joining Attorney General Schneiderman in the suit filed today are the states of Connecticut, Maryland, Massachusetts, Oregon, Rhode Island and Vermont, as well as the Puget Sound Clean Air Agency.  The coalition's suit, which was filed today in U.S. District Court in Washington, D.C., asks the court to find the EPA in violation of the Clean Air Act and order the agency to promptly review, propose and adopt necessary updates to the NSPS for residential wood heaters as required by the act.

The case is being handled by Assistant Attorney General Michael Myers and Policy Analyst Jeremy Magliaro, under the supervision of Deputy Bureau Chief Lisa M. Burianek, Bureau Chief Lemuel M. Srolovic, Executive Deputy Attorney General for Social Justice Alvin Bragg and First Deputy for Affirmative Litigation Janet Sabel.