Proposed EPA rules threaten woodstove manufacturers - WCAX.COM Local Vermont News, Weather and Sports-

Proposed EPA rules threaten woodstove manufacturers

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Hearthstone has been making their signature soapstone wood burning and pellet stoves in Morrisville since 1978.

"When we build a soapstone stove we build it like a brick house, from the bottom up," said David Kuhfahl from HearthStone.

The stoves are hand assembled and each one is signed. They are certified cord wood stoves that adhere to Environmental Protection Agency standards set back in 1988. When in use, they emit around three grams of particulates an hour.  Now the EPA wants to tighten those standards to 1.3 grams an hour.

"The American Lung Association feels this is one of the most important public health aspects of air pollution being considered at this time," said Dick Valentinetti who serves on the board of directors at the American Lung Association.

In fact there have been health alerts in Rutland during the winter months due to all the wood smoke in the air. "One of the problems we have with Rutland County is that they exceed the standards during the winter months on a number of occasions these national heath based standards… much from wood burning sources," Valentinetti said.

While HearthStone supports efforts to encourage cleaner burning products, company officials say these new standards could have a devastating effect on the company. "What would happen with the business is we would have to reduce our volume by a lot because we have 16 certified EPA products right now and each one would have to be certified to the new standard within five years and that is just not technically feasible or financially feasible," Kuhfahl said. "We spend anywhere between $350,000 to $1 million to certify a stove, and this is a small company -- we just can't do that."

Kuhfahl says the problem lies in part with products that were exempt from the 1988 rules, products like wood boilers which are less efficient and produce lots of smoke. "We as a company have made the investment over the last 26 years. We have done the right thing. There is no reason why we should be dragged down along with other sectors of the industry that continue to sell cheap, ineffective, inefficient product," Kuhfahl said.

It's estimated that 60 percent of all households in Vermont have a wood burning stove. Only the state of Maine has more homes that heat with wood. "We are a woodstove state. This is what we do. We use it, we build it and it's a piece of our economy. It's important," Kuhfahl added.

HearthStone has asked Senator Patrick Leahy's office for help in finding a middle ground. Sen. Leahy issued the following statement:

"The agency needs to move promptly to address the dirtiest wood burners, those exempted from emission limits under current rules. EPA should ensure that the new standard is set at a level that protects public health but that can be reasonably attained in the real world and the implementation schedule should recognize the realities of small firms needing to redesign entire product lines on a deadline, while continuing to make and sell their products."

But time is running out. The EPA is expected to act on the new tighter emission regulations next year, which could have serious financial fallout for HearthStone's future.

Reporter Judy Simpson: In reality, that has got to be on the table of possibilities if people are not buying stoves?

David Kuhfahl: My fear is that we will have so few stoves that could make it into the future that we just won't be viable as a business anymore.

The EPA is accepting written comments for the next several weeks. The proposed rule would not affect existing woodstoves and other wood burning heaters currently in use in people's homes.

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