Two months after rejecting the wood stove industry's bid for regulatory relief, EPA has changed course, accompanied by an unusual written pledge to temporarily downplay enforcement of stricter emission standards that took effect Saturday.
In a draft rule released after normal business hours Friday, EPA proposed letting retailers sell new stoves and other wood-fired home heating systems that don't meet the tighter emission limits through the end of November to make up for the economic disruption stemming from the COVID-19 crisis.
"More than 90 percent of manufacturers and retailers of wood heaters are small businesses, many of which have experienced significant losses in retail sales," EPA Administrator Andrew Wheeler said in a statement Friday. "This action will provide economic relief to these employers as America begins to reopen its businesses."
But under the original two-stage compliance schedule set by EPA in 2015, the sale of wood-fired heating appliances that only meet the earlier "Step 1" standards is now technically illegal until the new proposal is made final, a process likely to take months. Accordingly, the draft rule contains a caveat stating that EPA will meanwhile make enforcement of the final Step 2 emission limits that took effect Saturday a low priority.
In an email this morning, former acting EPA air chief Janet McCabe could not immediately name a similar precedent. "It signals that they are planning to act like the extension is in effect even though the rule has not yet been changed," said McCabe, who headed the air office when the tighter Obama-era limits were issued in 2015.
The proposed "sell-through" extension would apply only to stoves and other products made or imported before Saturday. But McCabe also questioned EPA's decision to proceed with the extension without either providing data on the economic damage to the industry because of the COVID-19 outbreak or examining the potential harm to public health by allowing the continued sale of dirtier-burning appliances for about another six months.
EPA "appears to be prioritizing undocumented assertions of economic harm above expected, but unexamined, public health impacts," she said.