EPA submits final rule to amend 2015 NSPS for wood heaters to OMB

By Erin Voegele | January 29, 2020

A final rule under review by the White House Office of Management and Budget is expected remove certain minimum requirements for pellet fuel contained in current U.S. EPA regulations for residential wood heaters and provide retailers with additional time to sell certain residential wood heating appliances.

The EPA on Jan. 28 summited its final rule to amend performance standards for new residential wood heaters, new residential hydronic heaters and forced-air furnaces to the OMB for review. OMB review marks a final stage before a final rule is publically released.

The rulemaking was released for public comment in late 2018. It aims up update a final rule published by EPA in 2015 that made revisions to new source performance standards (NSPS) for residential wood heaters. That 2015 rule updated NSPS that had been in place since 1988. Those updates reflected significant advancements in wood heater technologies and design, broadened the range of residential wood-heating appliances covered by the regulation, and improved and streamlined implementation procedures. The changes were designed to require manufacturers to design wood heaters to be cleaner and lower emitting. As a result, the heaters are also generally better performing and more efficient.

The standards finalized in 2015 phase in over a five-year period. For woodstoves, pellet stoves and hydronic heaters, the rule is being phased in in two steps, with the first set of requirements in effect May 15, 2015 and the second limit taking effect in 2020. For wood-fired forced air furnaces, the final rule required wood practice standards beginning on the effective date of the rule, with emissions limits phased in in two steps between 2016/2017 and 2020, to give manufacturers the time they need to develop cleaner models and conduct emissions testing. Small forced air furnaces were required to meet step one emissions limits by 2016. Large forced air furnaces were given an extra year to meet step one requirements, with compliance required in 2017. All forced air furnaces are required to meet the step two emissions limit by 2020. The 2015 NSPS also included minimum requirements for pellet fuels.

In November 2018 the EPA announced plans to take two separate actions to amend the NSPS for residential wood heaters issued in 2015. The actions include a proposed rule to provide retailers additional time to sell existing inventories of hydronic heaters and forced-air furnaces and an advanced notice of proposed rulemaking that sought comments on several aspects of the 2015 NSPS, including issues related to the regulation’s step two emissions limits and cord wood certification test methods.

The proposed rule proposed a two-year sell-through period for hydronic heaters and forced-air furnaces. The sell-through period would allow retailers two additional years after the May 2020 compliance date to sell units that were manufactured before the May 2020 compliance date. The proposed rule also solicited comments on whether a similar sell-through period should be allowed for woodstoves and on whether the pellet fuel requirements contained in the 2015 NSPS should be removed or revised.

A summary of the final rule posted to the OMB websites notes the final rule will remove “certain minimum requirements for pellet fuel regarding density, size and content.” The summary also shows the agency “intends to finalize its decision regarding the propose changes to the NSPS that would allow retailer to continue selling Step-1 certified residential wood heating devices beyond the May 15, 2020, Step 2 compliance date.”

An update posted to the EPA’s website on Oct. 15, 2019, addresses the EPA expected action on the final rule. It also encourages affected entities to continue efforts to certify compliance with the NSPS in light of the upcoming May 15, 2020 compliance date. “To this end, on Aug. 19, 2019, the agency approved an alternative test method for forced-air furnaces, which the agency believes may facilitate the ability of manufacturers of these devices to certify compliance by the current compliance date,” the EPA said in the update.  

“Second, in the coming months, the agency is initiating a series of roundtable discussions with states and other stakeholders to inform the agency’s direction toward a cord wood-based compliance test method,” the EPA continued in the update. “These discussions are intended to lay the foundation for a future test method rulemaking.”

Additional information is available on the OMB website.