ATTORNEY GENERAL SCHNEIDERMAN LEADS COALITION SUING EPA FOR FAILING TO ADEQUATELY LIMIT POLLUTION FROM RESIDENTIAL WOOD HEATERS
Despite Clean Air Act Requirements, Agency’s Existing Limits Haven’t Been Updated in 25 Years; Ignore Outdoor Wood Boilers, One Of The Most Common And Polluting Devices.
Schneiderman: Smoke From Residential Wood-Burning Heaters Poses A Serious Public Health Threat In New York Communities
NEW YORK – Leading a coalition of seven states, New York State Attorney General Eric T. Schneiderman today announced the filing of a lawsuit against the federal Environmental Protection Agency for violating the Clean Air Act by failing to adequately limit air pollution emissions from new residential wood heaters. In the legal papers, Schneiderman’s coalition contends that the EPA’s existing emissions limits, which haven’t been revised in 25 years, are outdated and leave out popular types of residential wood heaters — including outdoor wood boilers, which have proliferated in many areas of New York.
“EPA’s regulations simply haven’t kept pace with the proliferation of wood-burning devices or the availability of cleaner-burning units. Smoke from residential wood-burning heaters poses a serious health threat, especially in New York’s rural communities,” Attorney General Schneiderman said. “This lawsuit aims to force the EPA to comply with the Clean Air Act and provide overdue leadership in requiring new wood heaters to meet stricter pollution standards – an action that will save consumers money, improve local air quality and safeguard public health.”
Wood smoke contains several pollutants, including fine particulate matter (soot), that are linked to serious public health impacts, including asthma attacks, heart attacks and premature death. Wood smoke can also cause short-term effects such as eye, nose, throat and lung irritation and shortness of breath. According to recent EPA data, soot emitted from wood-burning devices comprises 13 percent of all soot pollution in the country. Moreover, several studies have found that residential wood combustion is responsible for potentially dangerous short-term spikes in soot air pollution, especially in rural areas.
Under the Clean Air Act, EPA must set pollution emission limits, called New Source Performance Standards or NSPS, for categories of emission sources that “cause, or contribute significantly to, air pollution which may reasonably be anticipated to endanger public health and welfare.” Importantly, the agency must review and, as appropriate, revise these limits at least every eight years to ensure they keep pace with advances in pollution control technologies. The limits apply to new or substantially modified sources
In 1988, EPA concluded that pollutants in wood smoke endanger public health and that residential wood heaters must be regulated under the Clean Air Act’s NSPS provision. That same year, the agency set a NSPS limit for soot emissions by these devices. At the same time, EPA exempted heating devices that fall under the category of “boilers.” These 1988 standards remain on the books today, despite the development of much cleaner-burning stoves and the proliferation of outdoor wood boilers for residential heating.
A 2008 study by the New York State Attorney General’s Office’s Environmental Protection Bureau found that outdoor wood boilers emit far more soot than other residential wood heaters-about 12 times as much soot as EPA-certified wood stoves, 1,000 times as much as oil furnaces and 1,800 times as much as gas furnaces. According to the report, the annual rate of outdoor wood boiler sales in the state probably increased threefold between 1999 and 2007, with an estimated 14,500 units sold in the state during those years.
Since the adoption of NSPS limits in 1988, three eight-year review periods mandated by the Clean Air Act have come and gone (1996, 2004, 2012) without the agency completing even one review of the limits. In the absence of EPA limits, the agency has established a voluntary program to encourage the purchase of cleaner-burning outdoor wood boilers. However, that program has not proven effective.
Joining Attorney General Schneiderman in the suit filed today are the states of Connecticut, Maryland, Massachusetts, Oregon, Rhode Island and Vermont, as well as the Puget Sound Clean Air Agency. The coalition’s suit, which was filed today in U.S. District Court in Washington, D.C., asks the court to find the EPA in violation of the Clean Air Act and order the agency to promptly review, propose and adopt necessary updates to the NSPS for residential wood heaters as required by the act.
The case is being handled by Assistant Attorney General Michael Myers and Policy Analyst Jeremy Magliaro, under the supervision of Deputy Bureau Chief Lisa M. Burianek, Bureau Chief Lemuel M. Srolovic, Executive Deputy Attorney General for Social Justice Alvin Bragg and First Deputy for Affirmative Litigation Janet Sabel.
For Immediate Release:
Health and Environmental Groups Challenge EPA over 17-year Failure to Update Clean Air Standards for New Wood Boilers and Furnaces
Timothy D. Ballo, Earthjustice, firstname.lastname@example.org 202-667-4500
Gregg Tubbs, American Lung Association, Gregg.Tubbs@Lung.org, 202-715-3469
Sharyn Stein, Environmental Defense Fund, email@example.com, 202-572-3396
David Presley, Clean Air Council, firstname.lastname@example.org 215-567-4004 ext. 122
Nancy Alderman, Environment and Human Health, Inc., email@example.com 203-248-6582
Groups Seek Clean Air Solutions to Protect Health of Communities and Families from Dangerous Soot
Washington, DC (October 9, 2013) – Today, national health and environmental groups filed a legal challenge to require the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency to update clean air standards that limit emissions from new outdoor wood boilers, furnaces and other similar sources that discharge large volumes of woodsmoke. This review is 17 years overdue, resulting in increased exposure to harmful smoke and soot in communities across the nation despite the wide availability of cleaner technologies.
The American Lung Association, Environmental Defense Fund, Clean Air Council, and Environment and Human Health, Inc., all represented by Earthjustice, filed a lawsuit over EPA’s failure to update emissions standards for new wood-burning boilers, furnaces and other similar high-emitting sources of dangerous soot as required by the Clean Air Act. The complaint filed today asks the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia to order EPA Administrator Gina McCarthy to review and revise the standards. Filing a similar complaint today were the states of New York, Connecticut, Maryland, Massachusetts, Oregon, Rhode Island, and Vermont and the Puget Sound Clean Air Agency.
“The EPA set the current standards for wood-burning devices more than a quarter century ago, years before the first of the landmark studies that demonstrated that particles like those that make up woodsmoke can be deadly,” said Janice Nolen, Assistant Vice President, National Policy, for the American Lung Association. “Since then, research into the pollutants from wood-burning has grown rapidly. EPA has abundant evidence that the standards from a generation ago endanger public health.”
When EPA last set pollution limits on new wood-burning devices in 1988, the Agency determined that these devices “contribute significantly to air pollution which may reasonably be anticipated to endanger public health and welfare.” The Clean Air Act requires EPA to review emissions standards for health harming sources of air pollution every 8 years. Under the law, EPA should have reviewed and updated the standards in 1996, 2004 and 2012.
EPA’s failure to update the standards means that homeowners install thousands of new wood-burning boilers, furnaces and stoves each year that produce far more dangerous air pollution than cleaner units would. Emissions from high polluting devices include particulate matter, carbon monoxide, nitrogen oxides, volatile organic compounds, hazardous air pollutants and carcinogens. The revised standards would only apply to new units, and would not affect existing sources.
“Woodsmoke from these devices is a significant source of dangerous fine particulate matter and because they emit close to the ground and their use is concentrated in certain areas including the Northeast, Northwest and Midwest, they have an enormous impact on wintertime air quality in those areas,” said Tim Ballo, attorney for Earthjustice. “The EPA needs to update its standards, which fail to cover the most heavily polluting types of wood burning equipment.”
“Wood stoves and boilers are a significant source of harmful particulates and toxic hydrocarbons,” said Elena Craft, Environmental Defense Fund Health Scientist. “Rigorous, health-protective standards for new stoves and boilers are both long overdue and urgently needed to protect families and communities around the country whose health is impacted by wood smoke emissions.”
“We’ve seen the market for outdoor boilers expand over the past two decades and over 10,000 units are sold each year,” said David Presley, Staff Attorney, Clean Air Council. “EPA and the industry developed voluntary outdoor wood boiler standards in 2010, but most devices sold fail to meet even these voluntary standards.”
EPA’s standards of performance do not reflect improvements in technology available widely today. For example, the State of Washington requires wood-burning devices to meet PM emission standards that are 40 percent more stringent than EPA’s standards. Moreover, EPA’s own data shows that many current devices far surpass even the Washington standards. Some widely-sold wood-burning devices, such as large outdoor wood boilers, are not covered at all by EPA’s current standards.
“Until EPA acts, the wood smoke from these devices will continue to enter the houses of all those who live near them, causing families to lose their health as well as the value of their homes, explained Nancy Alderman, Environment and Human Health, Inc. “The EPA cannot continue to allow so many citizens to be made sick because they have not acted, as the law requires, to set new air emission standards that keep pace with improving technology.”