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AG sues EPA over wood-burning devices

The state Attorney General’s Office, together with attorneys general from six other states, are suing the federal government to begin regulating outdoor wood-burning boilers and to toughen regulations on residential wood-burning devices.

Attorney General Martha Coakley has joined with her counterparts from Connecticut, Vermont, New York, Rhode Island, Oregon and Maryland, along with the Puget Sound Clean Air Agency in Washington, in suing the Environmental Protection Agency for violating the Clean Air Act by failing to adequately limit air pollution emissions from new residential wood heaters.

“We are simply asking that the EPA take the common sense step to update their regulations to limit dangerous pollutants. These changes would go into effect for new wood heaters, and have major benefits to improve air quality and promote public health,” said a statement from Coakley’s office.

The same suit was also filed jointly by the American Lung Association, Environmental Defense Fund, Clean Air Council, and Environment and Human Health Inc.

Wednesday’s states’ filing in U.S. District Court in Washington, D.C., led by New York Attorney General Eric T. Schneiderman, contends that the EPA’s existing emissions limits, which haven’t been revised in 25 years, are outdated and leave out outdoor wood boilers.

“The 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,” said Schneiderman. “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.”

The Clean Air Act mandates the EPA to set pollution emission limits for categories of emission sources that “cause, or contribute significantly to, air pollution which may reasonably be anticipated to endanger public health and welfare.” 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.

In 1988, the EPA concluded that pollutants in wood smoke endanger public health and that residential wood heaters must be regulated. The agency also set a performance standard limit for soot emissions by these devices but exempted heating devices that fall under the category of “boilers.” These 1988 standards remain on the books today, despite development of much cleaner-burning stoves and the proliferation of outdoor wood boilers for residential heating, the states contend.

The attorneys general cite a 2008 report that outdoor wood boilers can emit about 12 times more particulates than EPA-certified wood-burning stoves, 1,000 times as much as oil furnaces and 1,800 times as much as gas furnaces.

The agency was not able to respond because of the federal shutdown, but it issued a statement last month saying that its draft revisions to the new standards for residential wood heaters are now undergoing interagency review and that it plans to address outdoor wood-burning boilers in an upcoming proposal.

Wednesday’s filing asks the court to find the EPA in violation of the Clean Air Act and order it to promptly review, propose and adopt necessary updates to the standards for residential wood heaters, as required by the act.

You can reach Richie Davis at:
or 413-772-0261, Ext. 269

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