EPA opens comment period on wood heater proposal

The U.S. EPA has opened a public comment period on a proposed rule that aims to allow retailers the opportunity to recover sales opportunities lost to the COVID-19 pandemic for wood heating appliances that meet Step 1 requirements under the 2015 new source performance standards (NSPS) for new residential wood heaters, hydronic heaters and forced air furnaces. Under current regulations, Step 1 appliances can only be sold through May 15, 2020. The proposed rule aims to open up a new sales window for those appliances that would expire on Nov. 30, 2020.

“In response to the situation created by the COVID-19 pandemic, this proposed action restores the retail sales opportunities that were provided by the original 5-year period for ‘Step 1’ wood heaters, hydronic heaters, and forced-air furnaces that were manufactured or imported before the May 15, 2020, ‘Step 2’ compliance date,” the agency said in the proposed rule published in the Federal Register on May 22. “Upon promulgation, retailers may continue selling Step 1 heaters through Nov. 30, 2020.”

Within the rule, the EPA explains it is proposing to amend the 2015 NSPS to mitigate the impact of the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic on retailers who have lost valuable sales opportunities during the closures, stay-at-home orders, and other precautions taken to address the pandemic. Under the proposal, residential wood heaters, residential hydronic heaters, and residential forced-air furnaces manufactured or imported on or before May 15, 2020, and certified to meet the Step 1 particulate matter emission limit specified in the 2015 NSPS could be sold at retail on or before Nov. 30, 2020. The agency also noted the proposal is unlikely to affect the total number of Step 1 units available on the market because the prohibition on manufacture of these units after May 15, 2020, remains. The agency said the action allows manufacturers and retailers, of which 90 percent are small businesses, to recover sales opportunities they would have had in the absence of the pandemic.

Currently, Step 1 appliances feature labels that specify they are not approved for sale after May 15, 2020. The EPA said that statement could confuse consumers who might not understand that, if the proposed sell-through is finalized, such units could be legally sold after that date. “To address this potential issue, if the proposed sales period is finalized, retailers would be allowed to notify potential customers with signs, decals, hangtags, or other types of signage communicating that retailers are allowed to sell, and consumers are allowed to purchase, Step 1 devices until Nov. 30, 2020, notwithstanding the label that is required to be permanently affixed to the unit,” the EPA said in the proposed rule. “The EPA notes that, even if the proposed sales period is finalized, no person may remove or alter the existing permanent label that is required to be affixed to the unit.”

A public hearing could be held on the proposed rule in June. The EPA said that if anyone contacts the agency requesting a public hearing on or before May 27, the agency will hold a virtual public hearing on June 8.

Public comments on the proposal can be filed through July 6 under Docket ID No. EPA-HQ-OAR-2018-0195 on www.regulations.gov. Additional information is available on the Federal Register website.

By Erin Voegele | May 26, 2020

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