NSPS is on the Move, Comments Needed

While the EPA's proposed NSPS is primarily a stove regulation, the implications to pellet fuel producers is massive and we will only have a small window of opportunity to have our voices heard. Now is the time.
By Chris Wiberg | March 25, 2014

Updating the U.S. EPA’s New Source Performance Standard for Residential Wood Heaters is far from a new idea. Originally published in 1988, it was supposed to have been updated within five years, but has lain fallow since then. The pellet industry was put on notice March 2010, when Gil Wood, EPA’s staff lead to the NSPS update, spoke at the Pellet Fuel Institute’s membership luncheon at HPBExpo in Orlando, Fla. Gil informed the pellet fuels industry that the NSPS update would include quality requirements for the fuel burned in pellet stoves, and then commenced detailing expectations for the quality requirements and the quality management system that would be required. 

While the pellet fuels industry already had standards, published by PFI in 2008, Gil made it clear that the voluntary program lacked key criteria necessary for inclusion in the NSPS. EPA wanted a system that included third-party oversight through an accredited auditing structure, stricter language regarding the prohibition of inappropriate material, broader industry buy-in and a laundry list of other items. The take-away message seemed to be that EPA was happy that the pellet industry had developed standards voluntarily, but substantial modifications would be necessary for them to be considered acceptable for the NSPS. It was also made quite clear that if PFI did not make the necessary modifications, EPA would develop its own standards for pellet fuels.

Not long after the meeting in Orlando, work began through the PFI Standards Committee to rewrite the standards to incorporate the requirements outlined by EPA so PFI’s program could be referenced in the NSPS as the program by which pelletized fuel is graded, averting the threat that EPA would impose its own regulations. This process was completed in June, 2011. 

The PFI Standards Program contracts with the American Lumber Standard Committee to serve as the accreditation body that oversees and enforces the program.  ALSC is the same organization that oversees the standards for softwood lumber, treated lumber, wood packaging materials and other wood products.  ALSC has accredited 12 auditing agencies and five laboratories to provide third-party inspections and testing to qualify producers and to monitor their production on a routine basis to assure continued compliance with the PFI Standards. Most importantly, dozens of pellet fuel production facilities have initiated the implementation of the PFI Standards Program requirements, 10 of which have achieved official qualification under the program.

During the past four years as PFI developed its standards program, the NSPS has been delayed and, at times, seemed dormant. We have always known it would come at some point, but the extended wait made it hard to stay focused on its implications and why we went through all of the work of developing our standard. But at long last, EPA’s proposed NSPS was finally published Feb. 3 in the Federal Register.  For the first time, we can see the actual words of the draft regulation and begin evaluating the implications of this regulatory update. For the specific reference to fuel quality as it pertains to pellet burning appliances, we can breathe a sigh of relief in that the draft NSPS does reference the PFI Standards Program rather than impose its own regulations. Our work is still cut out for us, due to the many inaccuracies in the published draft and the substantial information that has been requested by EPA to fill in the gaps of information needed to complete the development process.

The deadline for comments on EPA’s NSPS is May 5.  I would highly encourage anyone with interests in the pellet fuels industry to review the proposed regulation and provide comments as necessary to protect your interests. While this is primarily a stove regulation, the implications to pellet fuel producers is massive and we will only have a small window of opportunity to have our voices heard.  Now is the time.

Author: Chris Wiberg
Manager, Biomass Energy Laboratory