Ten blue states are putting pressure on the US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to review its carbon emissions and air quality guidelines for wood-burning stoves, as they announced plans to sue the federal agency.
Attorneys general from the states of New York, Washington, Illinois, Maryland, Massachusetts, Minnesota, New Jersey, Alaska, Oregon, and Vermont allege that EPA’s testing and certification standards have been ineffective as they still allow the sale of carbon-emitting stoves that keep Americans breathing polluted air.
Wood-burning stoves are sometimes seen as more eco-friendly than gas-burning stoves because they are powered by a renewable source instead of a fossil fuel-based one. Both however use combustion to produce heat, which releases polluting particles that contribute to climate change and can be damaging to human health. According to public health experts in the UK, a wood-burning stove is 450 times more polluting than a gas one. An electric stove is the least polluting option and often the most efficient, too.
The states have given EPA a 60-day ultimatum to review its standards and avoid a lawsuit. In a joint intent of notice to file a lawsuit against the agency, they argued it made no sense to incentivize consumers to switch to newer products if these are not meeting higher air quality standards. “If newer wood heaters do not meet cleaner standards, then programs to change out old wood heaters may provide little health benefits at significant public cost,” read the notice, dated June 29 and first reported by the Associated Press.
A February report (pdf) from EPA’s Office of Inspector General found that its 2015 New Source Performance Standards (pdf) for residential wood heaters was problematic because “certification tests may not be accurate, do not reflect real-world conditions, and may result in some wood heaters being certified for sale that emit too much particulate-matter pollution.”
The survey determined that vague EPA standards have allowed testing labs and manufacturers to “drive test results to the lowest possible emissions rate and make it easier for the appliance to pass.”
While the EPA withdrew some flawed certification test methods from its labs, the report found that wood heaters that were certified based on those withdrawn test methods remain available for sale. According to the report, the EPA distributed some $82 million in grants for residential wood heater changeout programs between 2015 and 2021.
State regulators cannot rely on the EPA’s certifications of wood heaters and have resorted to developing their own standards. A certificate of compliance for wood heaters remains valid for five years from the date of issuance or until a more stringent emission standard takes effect.
The report outlined that EPA needs effective internal controls such as “policies, procedures, and guidance, standardized certification test report formats, and systematic compliance audit.”