DEC rules for cleaner heaters have some fired up
After months of controversy, the Department of Environmental Conservation has adopted the first statewide regulations governing the use of outdoor wood boilers, much to the chagrin of some farmers and rural homeowners who have come to embrace the alternative heat source.
The new regulations, which will take effect near the end of January, will primarily affect new boilers. The DEC is imposing new emission limits that it says will ensure new boilers burn at least 90 percent cleaner than older models.
DEC spokesperson Lori Severino said these new regulations are actually far less stringent than what the department had originally conceived. When the review process began earlier this year, the intent was to require a phasing out of older boilers for newer, cleaner ones, and to put seasonal limitations on when boilers could be operated.
We limited the earlier proposal significantly, just because of the amount of comments we received, Severino said.
She added the department would be reexamining regulations for existing boilers in 2011.
Those who had originally opposed the restrictions did not find their disagreement sated by a more limited ruling, though. The New York Farm Bureau has long been speaking against any regulations.
`These regulations come at a time when fuel oil prices are skyrocketing and with a harsh winter forecast,` said bureau President Dean Norton after the decision. `The public outcry against DEC over the past week should have convinced them that trying to push these regulations through at the last minute before a new administration takes office is completely disingenuous.`
He vowed the bureau would continue to fight against further restrictions.
In addition to the emissions standards, the regulations also require a minimum setback of 100 feet from property lines for wood boilers and place an 18-foot minimum smokestack height, both requirements that are designed to keep smoke away from neighbors. More stringent limits will also be placed on fuel sources, outlawing sources other than clean wood and wood pellets.
It’s already illegal to burn garbage in all but the least populated areas of the state, but these are often the places where boilers are more popular.
Assemblyman Tony Jordan, R-Jackson, said he’d like to see the DEC aggressively enforce fuel source rules rather than making other standards. The assemblyman, who has a wood burning heater in his basement, said an 18-foot smokestack is far too tall for most residential boiler units.
`The regulations that were proposed were flawed in a significant way,` he said. `I think what the DEC should have done is focus more on the rules we already have rather than create new ones.`
He also cautioned that plans to phase out older boilers would not be well received by his rural constituents.
`These units are not inexpensive,` Jordan said. `None of these people who are proposing these regulations probably have an outdoor wood furnace.`
A 2008 report from the Attorney General’s office found 14,500 outdoor wood boilers had been sold in New York state between 1999 and 2007. The boilers, which typically heat water in a structure removed from the house which is then pumped in for heat, can be a more economical option for some homeowners and farmers than purchasing oil or gas.
Another report from that office described outdoor wood boilers as `among the dirtiest and least economical modes of heating, especially when improperly used.`
Some municipalities in the state have already have their own laws governing where and how outdoor wood boilers may be used, and other northeast states like Vermont and Massachusetts have passed regulations. Severino said the complaints the DEC and other agencies receive about smoke blowing into neighboring homes or across roadways easily rival the quantity of opposition to regulation.
`Standards needed to be set for these,` she said. `The overall goal of this is to be protective of peoples’ public health and the state air quality.“