from University of New Hampshire site on heating with wood
Vermont has joined a group of seven states that are suing the federal Environmental Protection Agency. The states are attempting to force the EPA to regulate wood boilers. For those of you who don't live in rural areas, here's how a New York State website describes wood boilers:
(Outdoor Wood Boilers) OWBs....are fuel burning devices (1) designed to burn wood or other fuels; (2) that the manufacturer specifies for outdoor installation or installation in structures not normally occupied by humans; and (3) that are used to heat building space and/or water through the distribution, typically through pipes, of a gas or liquid (e.g., water or water/antifreeze mixture) heated in the device. A typical unit looks like a small metal storage shed with a stack. OWBs can also be used to heat swimming pools, greenhouses, milk rooms, etc.
As the Wall Street Journal notes in its article about the lawsuit:
EPA data says emissions from wood-burning devices account for 13 percent of all soot pollution in the nation.
As the University of New Hampshire cooperative extension website states:
The "classic" outdoor wood boilers that have been on the market for years have raised public health and environmental concerns. Fuel frequently burns incompletely, resulting in heavy smoke and high emissions.
The problem is compounded by the fact that the stacks on these devices are often shorter than surrounding structures and do not disperse smoke adequately, concentrating it near the ground.
The illustration above is from the New Hampshire website.
I would guess that half the posts on this blog concern Vermont attempting to regulate nuclear safety, and fighting the idea that nuclear safety is regulated at the federal level. Okay. Acknowledged. "State's Rights" are important to Vermont.
Clearly, Vermont thinks it has the expertise to regulate nuclear energy, but it also seems to think that the federal government had better step in and regulate the far more complex situation of wood boilers. States can't be expected to have their own regulations about such things.
Vermont actually has a half-hearted attempt to regulate wood boilers. There's a law (not enforced, apparently) outlawing old wood boilers within 200 feet of a residence or healthcare facility. There's also some money to help people put in new wood boilers. It is first-come first-serve at obtaining the money.
As the Vermont Air Pollution Control Division (APCD) describes the program:
“One way you can look at this is as a friendly-neighbor program,” said Dick Valentinetti of the APCD.
Other States Take More Responsibility
Other states have taken stronger measures.
Washington State has outlawed wood boilers. From the Washington State FAQ
Are any outdoor wood-fired hydronic heaters legal in Washington?
Not at this time.
New Hampshire has state-level regulations controlling wood boilers. These regulations include stack height, setbacks, and fuel use.
Maryland says it is illegal to own and operate this type of equipment in Maryland. However, in fact, Maryland only responds to complaints about such boilers.
If a unit is causing a big problem, we can issue an order to shut it down.
In Fairness to Vermont
|Bruegel illustration of cat-belling|
Maybe it is politically expedient to let Uncle Sam take the heat on this one. As the WSJ article explains about New York State:
New York state adopted regulations in April 2011 to require all new wood-fired boilers sold in the state to burn at least 90 percent cleaner than older models. A plan to extend the rules to existing boilers was shelved after a public outcry, particularly in rural areas of northern New York where numerous farms and homes that rely on the heaters would be forced to pay thousands of dollars to replace them.
Clearly, the people in Montpelier want the Federal Government to bell the cat about wood boilers. If the federal government acts:
- The right hand of the people in Montpelier can encourage the use of wood boilers to meet Vermont's renewable energy plan
- Montpelier's left hand can sue to restrict the use of wood boilers at the federal level.
This could work, I guess.
In Fairness to Vermont Yankee
Perhaps we need a federal Wood Boiler Act, like the Atomic Energy Act. This new act would move wood boiler regulation to the federal level because it is so complicated. Stack height! Distance from houses! Particulate measurements! Far too complicated for a state to regulate.
Once the Federal Wood Boiler Act was passed, we could expect the Vermont legislature to challenge the federal jurisdiction.
At that point, our legislature might find the political courage to regulate wood boilers, instead of merely filing lawsuits against the federal government.