Murkowski presses Regan on wood heater certification program

By Erin Voegele | May 04, 2023

Sen. Lisa Murkowski, R-Alaska, called on U.S. EPA Administrator Michael Regan to fix the agency’s handling of its wood heater certification and testing program during a Senate Appropriations Committee hearing on May 3.

Murkowski noted that that in January the EPA proposed to partially approve and partially reject Alaska’s air plan for combatting particulate emissions in the Fairbanks-North Star Borough. That plan relates to federal standards for PM2.5 (fine particulate matter).

“I believe that the agency fundamentally misunderstands the role that its flawed wood heater certification played in higher PM2.5 emissions within the region,” Murkowski said. “In fact, in February of this year, the EPA inspector general released a report heavily criticizing the agency’s handling of its wood heater program. The IG’s report states that EPA mismanagement has led to elevated PM2.5 emissions even though Congress has provided almost $100 million for wood stove change outs over the last eight years…By failing to properly certify and test wood heater emissions, the EPA has frustrated Congress’s investments and intended goals.”

The report referenced by Murkowski was released by the EPA’s Office of Inspector General on Feb. 28. In the report, the IG claims that EPA’s residential wood heater program does not provide reasonable assurance that heaters are properly tested and certified before reaching customers. The report makes six specific recommendations on how the agency can improve the testing and certification program, including by clarifying test report expectations in upcoming rule provisions; developing a reliable certification test method based on real-world conditions; and implementing internal controls to, among other things, review certification test reports and conduct systematic compliance audit tests.

“I’m calling on our agency to fix it handling of the wood heater certification and testing program and internally provide whatever resources are needed to achieve that,” Murkowski told Regan. “To show my commitment, last year we provided a $1 million increase for staffing and other efforts to help right the program.” She added that it is unfair her constituents in Alaska could face increased energy prices or energy insecurity due to potential enforcement actions that the EPA may take against them for the agency’s own mismanagement.

Murkowski said she understands the EPA has recently responded to the inspector general’s report and asked what steps the agency is taking internally to improve its wood testing and certification standards as well as the enforcement of those standards.

“We are absolutely taking the OIG’s report very seriously, and in implementing some of those recommendations we are strengthening our commitment to work with the Alaska DEC…and other key people in the community,” Regan said. “We are also designing a program using $15 million in funding from IRA for testing and other activities to address these emissions from wood stoves…This issue has my attention. We will continue to prioritize it. With these IRA dollars, with the OIG report, and with enforcement discretion, I believe we can resolve this issue.”

A full replay of the hearing is available on the Senate Appropriations Committee website.