Oregon’s attorney general joins nine other attorneys general to demand greater regulation of pollution from residential wood-burning stoves

By Alex Baumhardt, Oregon Capital Chronicle, July 6, 2023

Oregon’s attorney general plans to join nine attorneys general in suing the federal Environmental Protection Agency for failing to ensure newly manufactured wood-burning stoves and fireplaces don’t contaminate the air and harm public health. 

Ellen Rosenblum and the attorneys general from Alaska, Illinois, Maryland, Massachusetts, Minnesota, New Jersey, New York, Vermont and Washington notified the agency on June 29 their intent to sue, giving it 60 days notice to take action or negotiate to avoid a lawsuit. 

They allege the agency has failed to adequately update its emissions standards for residential wood-burning stoves and fireplaces to ensure compliance under the Clean Air Act. Though the agency began regulating wood heaters for emissions in 1988, a recent report from the agency’s Office of Inspector General found that current standards and the certification process, last updated in 2015, are flawed.

“The current program does not provide reasonable assurance that wood heaters are properly tested and certified before reaching consumers,” the attorneys general wrote. 

An agency  spokesperson Melissa Sullivan declined to comment Wednesday in an email.

“Because this is potential litigation, EPA has no further information to add,” she wrote. 

The attorneys general have asked that the agency revise its performance standards for newly manufactured wood heaters and to revise the testing and certification process for them.

In 2009, Oregon’s Department of Environmental Quality found that more than 590,000 homes in Oregon had a wood-burning device. More than half of them were wood stoves or wood fireplaces, and about 40% of those were uncertified. Its survey found statewide that about 17% of wood-burning devices were used as a main source of heat and 37% were used as a secondary source of heat. 

The Environmental Protection Agency estimates there are more than 6 million old and inefficient wood-burning stoves in the U.S. today. Wood smoke contains a number of harmful air pollutants, including carbon monoxide and fine particulate matter that can lead to asthma, cancer and dementia, according to the agency’s analysis. 

A 2021 analysis of 250 certified wood heaters on the market by the nonprofit Northeast States for Coordinated Air Use Management and the Alaska Department of Environmental Conservation found that manufacturers had either incomplete or no reports showing they had tested their products to ensure they met EPA standards. None was in compliance with regulatory requirements, the analysis found. It concluded that the agency’s certification program did not ensure that wood heaters sold in recent years were any cleaner than those sold prior to 1988, the first year that emissions standards were established for wood-burning stoves. The attorneys general said that wood-burning stoves are most often used in communities already disproportionately impacted by pollution.

“Many of these devices will be installed in communities that are overburdened by environmental harms and other inequities, further exacerbating environmental justice issues,” they wrote.

FEATURED IMAGE:  A state study in 2009 found that nearly 600,000 Oregon homes used wood-burning devices and 40% of them were not certified. (Getty Images)

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