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NO CASTLE EPA extends tentacles to the average fireplace

The Environmental Protection Agency came into being for good reason.

We well remember the 1960s, when smog in Los Angeles rivaled the Beijing skies that embarrassed China during the 2008 Summer Olympics. We can remember when coal-fired power plants routinely compensated local farmers for sulfur dioxide "burns" that damaged soybean crops. We can remember the burn-offs that lit the night sky above the Calvert City chemical complex back in the day.

Environmental laws and standards, and ultimately the EPA, arose in response to legitimate problems, and the nation has made big strides over the past several decades in cleaning up its skies and waterways. The problem with the EPA and agencies like it however is that they never stop regulating. After the biggest problems are addressed, future problems and the benefits from resolving them become incrementally smaller. And at a point efforts to solve such problems tend to become just as incrementally cost inefficient. Taken to the extreme, as is now happening with coal-fired power plants, such regulation can destroy entire industries.

Not only has modern EPA regulation become overbearing; it at times resembles a circular firing squad. Consider the paradox of the government's varying positions on "renewable" fuels, such as wood. In 2012, the Wall Street Journal wrote about a day when the town of Blue Lake, California was enveloped by "malodorous brown smoke from a power plant" and said "several hundred residents fled until it passed." The newspaper reported that six months later, the plant received $5.4 million from a federal program to promote "environmentally preferable alternatives to fossil fuel."

The plant in question was Blue Lake Power LLC, which burns wood chips, construction debris and agricultural waste. So the paradox is this - the plant is bad because it burns stuff that fouls the air enough to empty a nearby town, but it is good because it burns fuel that renews itself. The government chooses to reward the latter activity because it deems it "carbon neutral." It reasons that carbon released from burning wood would be released into the atmosphere anyway when the wood rots, so by burning wood instead of say, coal, you lower net carbon in the atmosphere (and so what if everyone in the next town dies of emphysema).

But woe unto ye who attempt to burn carbon-neutral wood in your fireplaces. As an article on the front page of Monday's Paducah Sun notes, the EPA has those average Americans in its sights. The agency is angling to regulate the wood-burning stoves that, according to the article, are a staple in many rural homes and provide "a cheap heating source for low-income residents and others wanting to lessen their reliance on gas or electric furnaces."

The article says the EPA has proposed regulations to "significantly reduce the amount of particle pollution from the smokestacks of new residential wood-power stoves." Manufacturers say that, much like the EPA's regulations on new coal-fired power plants, the proposed rules on wood-burning stoves are so stringent there may never be another one installed. "There's not a stove in the United States that can pass the test right now - this is the death knoll of any wood burning," one supplier told a Missouri legislative panel.

So there you have it. The government subsidizes commercial wood-burning in the name of promoting "green energy", but seeks to prevent homeowners from burning wood in future residences.

At some point, obviously, Americans are going to push back on this sort of nonsense. That point may be when the government starts telling a man what kind of fireplace he can have in his castle.

Comments made about this article - 1 Total

Scott posted on: Thursday, February 27, 2014 10:47 AM

Title: A weak, poticially-motivated rant against the EPA

This assertion that the EPA wants to regulate your fireplace is disingenuous. Modern wood heating systems are multiplying greatly, even in city settings, and the amount of smoke is degrading the air quality. If you had been alive in the 1930's, you would have seen the deadly air quality effects of the majority heating with wood and coal. Soot was ubiquitous and a hazy pall rested over most towns for half the year.
Additionally, now in rural western Kentucky and Tennessee, dark leaf tobacco "firing" has gone from tiny barns to large-scale operations in very short time. This is the result of de-regulation of tobacco. Large barns, some half the length of a football field and in rows of 6 or more, are belching out smoke for four months of the year, exacerbating asthma and other health problems...and generally degrading our quality of life.
The EPA has been the only real force to clean up this country's air and water supply in the past 40 years---and it has worked. Rampant burning of wood can and should be regulated, just as pollution from your personal automobile is regulated. That regulation is aimed at producers of wood burning heating systems. I highly doubt the EPA wants to put scrubbers on your home fireplace.

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