Smoke and Mirrors

Our industry overwhelmingly supports the idea of a changeout program authorization, but any sincere effort to implement such a program needs to have a meaningful chance of passage and include industry input during the drafting process.
By John Crouch | October 30, 2018

Recently, there has been some talk in the biomass community, including within the pages of this magazine, that suggests there is a possibility of a $500 million woodstove changeout fund being created by Congress. While the Hearth, Patio & Barbecue Association agrees there needs to be a program to help fund the removal of old, uncertified woodstoves, the current draft concept and efforts to promote it at this time are an illusion, or worse, a shell game.

HPBA is the trade association for all wood, pellet, and gas-fired heating products and their accessories, i.e. hearth products. We’ve worked to establish changeout programs to remove and replace old woodstoves since 1989, usually in partnership with local or state governments or tribes. Often, these programs are established with the support and participation of local chapters of the American Lung Association. We hope and expect that there will one day be a nationally funded woodstove changeout program, similar to the Diesel Emission Reduction Act first enacted in 2005. It is an idea that HPBA has been working on with the U.S. Congress since 2007. Both industry and state air regulators want such a fund, and are pushing to make it a reality.

Right now, however, the concept is being dangled to try to divert attention from another important conversation. For almost two years, HPBA has been working on behalf of our entire industry to fix a major, time-sensitive problem with the 2015 revision of the U.S. EPA’s woodburning certification program, the New Source Performance Standards for New Residential Wood Heaters (i.e., wood and pellet stoves and inserts) and New Residential Hydronic Heaters and Forced-Air Furnaces.

The final rule established two deadlines: Step 1, effective in 2015 and Step 2, effective May 15, 2020. The Step 2 standards contain fundamental problems. They set very difficult standards for new woodstoves and hydronic heaters, a nearly impossible standard for new wood furnaces, and tied the hands of the industry by requiring that on or after May 15, 2020 nothing could be made, sold or transferred unless it met the new Step 2 standards. The new Step 2 emission standards are complicated, difficult to meet and require months, or even years, of careful lab work. Most woodstove and hydronic heater manufacturers will be lucky to have even a few models ready by the deadline. And at this rate, consumers of wood furnaces will be lucky if they have more than a single model to choose from starting in May 2020.

Since retailers cannot be certain what and how much they’ll sell in the winter of 2019-’20 (which also depends a lot on the weather), they have radically cut back on orders of current models that meet Step 1. This, in turn, means reduced sales revenue for the manufacturers paired with the requirement to speed up further their expensive R&D efforts now. Even manufacturers who already had models that met the new Step 2 emissions target aren’t exempt from the crunch. Since the EPA slightly changed the test, all models certified before 2015—including those that were clean and efficient enough to meet the Step 2 standards by most any metric—must be retested with the new method.

HPBA has moved a bill (H.R. 453) through the House, and recently moved a Senate version of the bill (S. 1857) through the key Senate Committee on Environment and Public Works (EPW). The legislation would extend the Step 2 date of the NSPS by three years, from May 15, 2020 to May 15, 2023. This is the cleanest possible legislative edit to the regulation. Mere weeks before the EPW Committee’s Sept. 18 markup, despite months passing by without so much as a peep of interest, draft changeout program language was thrown together to sidetrack the conversation about the need for additional time to meet Step 2 of the NSPS.

The authors of the draft changeout program language offered it, as well as language that would prevent EPA from ever updating the NSPS in the future, as an amendment to S. 1857, as a replacement of the original intent of the legislation: to provide extra time for industry to come into compliance with Step 2 targets. What hasn’t been mentioned previously is that the proposed changeout program language would only authorize creation of such a program. It wouldn’t actually appropriate those funds, which would require another step. Since this legislative session ends in January, any legislation that isn’t signed into law over the past two years of this session of Congress will have to be reintroduced. To create such a new program will take years of work with Congress, not a few months at the end of a congressional session that is now consumed with an upcoming election. Simply put, the creation of an unfunded program would be an empty gesture that provides no benefit to the industry or consumers.

Our industry overwhelmingly supports the idea of a changeout program authorization, but any sincere effort to implement such a program needs to have a meaningful chance of passage and include industry input during the drafting process—not a hastily drafted, diversionary amendment that lessens the chances of industry getting the relief it needs to ensure a viable generation of new, cleaner-burning woodstoves.

Author: John Crouch
Director of Public Affairs, Hearth, patio & Barbeque Association