Tuesday, December 08, 2015

Wood Smoke Lobby Wins Sooty Victory in Congress... What's Next?

In case you missed it, while big environmental groups were focused on the Paris climate summit, the wood smoke lobby won a sooty victory last week in the House of Representatives.  This is a breath-taking defeat for the public.  But the fight isn't over yet.

In a largely party-line vote (for the vote count, see here:http://clerk.house.gov/evs/2015/roll669.xml ) the House of Representatives amended energy legislation to kill recent EPA standards for new wood-burning heaters.  http://1.usa.gov/1ONDOnw

(Clean Air Watch has been tracking the issue of lethal wood smoke for nearly a decade.  http://bit.ly/1ONG7Xv  We would like to acknowledge the very helpful updated reporting on this issue by Bloomberg BNA's Patrick Ambrosio.)

The EPA standards, which only affect future devices, would cut life-shortening particle soot emission as well as toxic emissions that contribute to smog. EPA projected that its standards would prevent hundreds of premature deaths as well as reduce hospital admissions, asthma attacks and lost work days. http://1.usa.gov/1lLTM5E  It would mean billions of dollars in health-related benefits. http://1.usa.gov/1lr6d7z

The amendment was sponsored by Rep. David Rouzer (R-N.C.) The Hearth, Patio and Barbecue Association -- which is suing against parts of the EPA standards --  has spent at least $180,000 lobbying this year. http://bit.ly/1QtjIP6 The association said last month that it although it is suing against the EPA standards, that it does not favor a complete repeal.  http://bit.ly/1lrdkgl The association said it hopes to get EPA to modify its standards through a negotiated court settlement.  For his part, Rouzer asserted his effort to protect "rural consumers and manufacturers" was a "common-sense"approach. http://1.usa.gov/1RC9tZE

Why is this issue a big deal?  As EPA explains in its regulation impact analysis:

Nationally, residential wood combustion accounts for 44 percent of total stationary and mobile polycyclic organic matter (POM) emissions, which accounts for nearly 25 percent of all area source air toxics cancer risks and 15 percent of noncancer respiratory effects. Residential wood smoke causes many counties in the U.S. to either exceed the EPA’s health-based national ambient air quality standards (NAAQS) for fine particles or places them on the cusp of exceeding those standards. For example, in places such as Keene, New Hampshire; Sacramento, California; Tacoma, Washington; and Fairbanks, Alaska; wood combustion can contribute over 50 percent of daily wintertime fine particle emissions. The concerns are heightened because wood stoves, hydronic heaters, and other heaters are often used around the clock in many residential areas. To the degree that older, dirtier, less efficient wood heaters are replaced by newer heaters that meet or exceed the requirements of this rule, the emissions would be reduced, and thus exposure as well, and fewer health impacts should occur. 

The U.S. Senate has yet to take the issue up.  So perhaps the legislation will die -- and the wood smoke lobby can continue its fight against clean air in court.

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