As discussed previously, wood heaters are the most economical source of heat for many low-income households in rural America, and their manufacturers are important employers in the small towns where most are based. EPA’s emissions restrictions had two steps—the first reduced emissions by 90 percent beginning in 2015, and the second would go after most of the remaining emissions in 2020. It’s the 2020 standards that are proving to be a big problem.
Only a fraction of the models currently available can meet the ultra-stringent 2020 standards, and those that do come with significant cost increases on a consumer base least able to afford it. Those who are priced out of the new wood heater market may end up relying on older but higher-emitting models, or resorting to an old fashioned fireplace with no emissions controls at all. Thus the rule may well prove counterproductive from an air pollution standpoint.
The news is just as bad for those who manufacture wood heaters. At a House Energy and Commerce Committee hearing on the topic, one company owner testified that he already had to downsize and lay off workers in anticipation of this rule, and that more pain is to come absent any regulatory relief. Manufacturers are not asking for repeal, but have requested a few years’ more time beyond 2020 to comply.
Fortunately, the Trump EPA has proposed modest changes, allowing certain types of wood heaters that meet the 2015 standards but not the 2020 standards to continue to be sold through 2022. It has also sought comment on extending the deadline for other types of wood heaters. The best course of action would be to provide as much relief as the law allows.
The original rule was a microcosm of what was wrong with so many other Obama regulations—big costs on consumers, loss of manufacturing jobs, indifference to rural America, and all for questionable environmental benefits. It may never make headlines, but the proposed rule change, if finalized, would quietly do a lot of good for those who make wood heaters and those who use them.