Press Releases

Adirondack Council Applauds Audit of EPA Wood Heat Program  

Faulty, Incomplete, and Inaccurate Testing Calls Program Efficacy into Question

Monday, March 29, 2021 

ALBANY, N.Y. -- The Adirondack Council today praised an organization of clean air regulators for uncovering serious problems in the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s program for certifying the efficiency of residential wood heating devices. 

The organization Northeast States for Coordinated Air Use Management released a report in March showing that zero of the 255 residential wood heating units certified for use as cleaner replacements for old outdoor boilers, stoves, and furnaces could prove they were cleaner than the units they replaced. 

“The NESCAUM audit of the EPA’s residential wood heat program is a stunning revelation that we hope will have EPA working overtime to fix the problem NESCAUM has exposed,” said Adirondack Council Executive Director William C. Janeway. “We all knew that replacing inefficient wood heating with new units would cost some money, but no one wants that money to be wasted.  We never imagined that using EPA’s certified products could actually make the air quality worse. 

“Wood heat is a widely used method in the Park, where fossil fuels are expensive and must be trucked in,” Janeway said. “But burning wood inefficiently can create serious pollution problems, especially when clouds or temperature inversions cause the smoke to collect and intensify locally. The air outside of town might be fine on a winter night, but fairly dirty in the center of town after people get home from work and fire up their heating.” 

According to the American Lung Association, wood smoke exposure means inhaling fine particles of soot that remain in the lungs; increased carbon monoxide, an odorless and deadly gas; increased nitrogen oxides, which are key ingredients in smog and acid rain; volatile organic compounds, also a component of smog; and, excess greenhouse gases such as carbon dioxide and methane. 

In 2015, the EPA adopted new emission standards for residential wood-burning appliances under the Residential Wood Heater New Source Performance Standards. As part of the effort, it developed a list of approved wood heat units and appliances that would qualify as clean replacements for older furnaces and boilers. 

NESCAUM is an organization of state-level clean air regulators from eight Northeast states whose mission is to monitor and improve air quality across the region. NESCAUM performed the audit after it became clear that despite the replacement of older equipment with EPA-approved new equipment, local air quality wasn’t improving.    

From NESCAUM’s Audit: “Residential wood heaters have a long useful life, therefore the benefits of new emission standards accrue slowly. To accelerate the turnover of older higher emitting appliances, government agencies, manufacturers, and nonprofit groups are investing millions of dollars in change-out programs. States and the federal government also offer tax credits that provide consumers with financial incentives to upgrade to new, presumably cleaner-burning wood heaters.” 

“For many years, the Adirondack Council and its partners have advocated for state rules and funding that would phase-out older wood-heating equipment in the Adirondacks, and allow residents to replace very inefficient outdoor boilers with cleaner units that require less wood,” Janeway said. “We don’t want to see subsidies or rebates wasted on units that don’t clean the air. That would be an awful waste of money and would harm public faith in the overall effort.” 

In some cases, the audit found fault with the testing method the EPA allowed. The EPA had allowed third-party testing labs to use kiln-dried lumber and to test emissions only after the unit reached its intended heat range. In other cases, data on testing was missing entirely, or could not be replicated when others performed spot checks.  

The New York State Energy Research and Development Authority (NYSERDA) has been testing the emissions from various forms of wood heat for more than a decade, mainly aimed at improving air quality in places that depend the most on wood for heat, including the Adirondacks. It uses a real-world test that requires cordwood, and puts the unit through two complete combustion cycles, from cold startup to hot, to cool-down, and then repeat.   

The State of Alaska also uses real-world emissions testing methods. NESCAUM’s audit urged the EPA to switch to the Alaskan testing regimen.   

“We commend NESCAUM for bringing this serious problem to the attention of the public,” Janeway said. “The EPA needs to establish a real-world test and provide real-world guidance on how to comply with emissions standards. The EPA needs to establish a new certification method. It should be based on NYSERDA’s or Alaska’s methods and should be ready to go as soon as possible.” 

The Adirondack Council is a privately funded not-for-profit organization whose mission is to ensure the ecological integrity and wild character of the Adirondack Park. It is the largest environmental organization whose sole focus is the Adirondacks. The Council envisions a Park with clean water and clean air, comprised of core wilderness areas, surrounded by farms and working forests, and vibrant communities.   

The Adirondack Council carries out its mission through research, education, advocacy, and legal action. Adirondack Council advocates live in all 50 United States. 

For more information: John Sheehan, Director of Communications, 518-441-1340 

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