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Where there's smoke: Michigan may battle EPA over wood stove rules

Wood burning stove.
Rich Misner

Michigan may soon pick a fight with the Environmental Protection Agency over wood burning stoves.

Nationwide, there are an estimated 12 million wood and pellet stoves. The EPA estimates wood stoves contribute about 13% of the nation’s soot pollution. 

The EPA wantsnew emissions limits on wood and pellet stoves. Manufacturers would have five years to reduce stove emissions by 80%.

Smoke from residential wood heaters, which are used around the clock in some communities, can increase toxic air pollution, volatile organic compounds, carbon monoxide and soot, also known as particle pollution, to levels that pose serious health concerns. Particle pollution is linked to a wide range of serious health effects, including heart attacks, strokes and asthma attacks. In some areas, residential wood smoke makes up a significant portion of the fine particle pollution problem. EPA’s proposal would work in concert with state and local programs to improve air quality in these communities.

The EPA estimates fully implementing its proposed standards would generate $1.8 to $2.4 billion dollars in annual health and economic benefits.

The new regulations would not apply to existing wood or pellet stoves. 

There is opposition to the new rule.

“It’s going to be very difficult for manufacturers to manufacture new stoves that would meet these requirements,” says Charlie Owens of the National Federation of Independent Business.

Owens says the higher standards will not only be a problem for manufacturers, but also other small businesses, like farms, that rely on wood burning stoves as cheaper alternatives to natural gas or propane. 

Wood and pellet stoves are widely used in the Upper Peninsula, so it should be no surprise that U.P. state lawmakers are pushing SB 910. Its chief sponsor is State Sen. Tom Casperson, R-Escanaba.

“These proposed regulations are a recent example of overreach by bureaucrats, as we too often see, especially from the EPA,” said Casperson. “Using wood as a heating source has been a way of life for centuries in the U.P. and across rural Michigan. The burdensome regulations proposed by the EPA are an overreach of government and need to be stopped to protect our way of life.”

Casperson’s bill would prevent state agencies from enforcing the EPA rule. Similar legislation has been passed or is under consideration in several states.

Jack Schmitt is with the League of Conservation Voters. He says the Casperson bill is a bad idea.  

“It would really prevent and hamstring the state from being able to move forward with those new technologies,” says Schmitt. 

Schmitt says some wood stove manufacturers are already meeting the proposed new emissions standard.  

He sees this as the latest effort to block environmental regulations in Michigan.

“This is another one of those attempts and it’s unfortunate to see,” says Schmitt. 

The bill has already cleared the state Senate and appears poised for quick passage in the state House. No word yet whether Gov. Rick Snyder will sign or veto the bill.   

Steve Carmody has been a reporter for Michigan Public since 2005. Steve previously worked at public radio and television stations in Florida, Oklahoma and Kentucky, and also has extensive experience in commercial broadcasting.
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