The Long and Winding Road

By Tim Portz | March 18, 2020

In late February, two Pellet Fuels Institute producer-members and I testified at the U.S. Office of Management and Budget about the unnecessary, off-target and illegal inclusion of minimum pellet fuel requirements in the U.S. EPA’s New Source Performance Standards. That effort was our latest and, hopefully, last step in a process that stems back nearly six years.

As a reminder, the NSPS is shorthand for the “Standards of Performance for New Residential Wood Heaters, New Residential Hydronic Heaters and Forced-Air Furnaces,” a set of federal regulations authorized under the provisions of the Clean Air Act. Included in the regulation are new limits on particulate matter emissions from a variety of solid fuel-burning appliances, including wood pellet appliances and specific requirements for both wood chips and wood pellets.

Examining the timeline of the development of this rule is a textbook case study for why trade associations so often find themselves defending their membership from well-intentioned but misguided federal regulation.

Long before this regulation was introduced into the Federal Register in May 2015, the PFI was working with federal regulators to create a consensus-based standards program that would guarantee predictable, and consistent-quality wood pellets available to consumers in the retail marketplace.

Clearly, the PFI was the right organization to develop a standard for wood pellet manufacturing, and to keep that standard relevant not only within current manufacturing processes, but also the needs of state and federal air quality regulators. The PFI committed itself to the hard work and persevered, crafting the most robust pellet quality standard in the world. When regulators wanted to see more frequent third-party testing, the PFI listened, driving that component into the standard despite the incurred expenses for manufacturers to comply. When regulators insisted on an annual metals test, again the PFI listened, and it was added to the standard.

It came as a surprise when the EPA included its own minimum pellet fuel requirements in this new federal regulation. Most problematic was that these standards were now locked into a federal rule, leaving their revision and evolution up to the EPA. At that point, the PFI sought legal counsel and began down a path to have the minimum requirements removed. That brings us to where we are now.
When preparing for our meeting with OMB, the last stop before the rule and any revisions are written into the Federal Register, we endeavored to make three key points, which are as follows.

The PFI is not opposed to rigorous quality standards. Conversely, our organization takes great pride in its own standards program, which was developed in good faith that industry participants would be responsible for developing common-sense standards that recognize the realities of manufacturing wood pellets. The program has evolved to meet changing industry practices and regulatory concerns without having to open and amend a piece of federal regulation. Our objection is not to the standards per se, but rather, the appropriateness of them being included in a difficult to amend federal regulation.

Wood pellets are the cleanest-burning solid wood fuel source available in today’s marketplace. Because they are highly engineered, appliances that burn wood pellets achieve the lowest particulate emissions levels possible when burning wood fuels. In fact, of the 91 appliances in the EPA’s wood heater database with emissions rates lower than 1 gram of particulate matter (PM) 2.5 per hour, 59 are pellet-burning appliances. The consistency of the wood pellets enable appliance manufacturers to design units that can achieve these ultra-low emissions rates.

The inclusion of minimum pellet fuel requirements in the final rule does not advance the goals of the Clean Air Act. This point is perhaps the most important of the three. One of the requirements for introducing a new regulation or amending an existing one is to calculate the monetized net benefit of the additional regulation to the public. According to the EPA’s own analysis, pellet stoves and the expanded rules concerning them and the fuels they burn will generate between zero and $3 million in monetized net benefits, which is another way of saying the rule has the potential to offer no benefit whatsoever.

We are hopeful that the OMB agrees that including minimum pellet fuel requirements in a federal regulation is unnecessary, unlawful and unable to advance the aims of the Clean Air Act, and for those reasons, eliminates it from final rule to bring this effort to its long overdue end.

Author: Tim Portz
Executive Director, Pellet Fuels Institute