Carper, Murkowski Reintroduce Bill Incentivizing Homeowner Transitions to Cleaner, More Efficient Wood Heaters

Bipartisan measure would improve air quality in rural and tribal areas, boost American manufacturing

WASHINGTON, D.C. – U.S. Senators Tom Carper (D-Del.), top Democrat on the Environment and Public Works Committee (EPW) and Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska), chairman of the Energy and Natural Resources Committee, reintroduced a bill today that would improve indoor and outdoor air quality and encourage manufacturing job growth by advancing the deployment of cleaner burning wood stoves, which are used by an estimated 11.5 million families throughout the United States. The Wood Heaters Emissions Reduction Act (WHERA) would establish a grant program at the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) that would award $75 million annually to incentivize the removal and replacement of old, inefficient residential wood heaters with efficient, clean-burning heaters. WHERA also requires that tribal and rural communities are fairly represented in funding allocations. 

Older wood stoves are a major driver of particle pollution in this country. EPA data indicates that nation-wide, inefficient residential wood heaters emit five times more particulate matter pollution than the U.S. petroleum refineries, cement manufacturers, and pulp and paper plants combined. 

“Many Americans in Delaware, Alaska and states in between rely on wood heaters to keep their family and property safe from harsh winter temperatures. While these appliances protect millions of families from the cold, many older wood heaters harm indoor and outdoor air quality because they emit a wide range of harmful air toxins – creating higher risks of respiratory illness and exacerbating breathing difficulties for those living with asthma,” said Senator Carper. “This bill will help homeowners, most of whom live in rural and tribal areas, to replace these high-polluting stoves with technology that can help their families breathe cleaner air inside their homes. This wood heater replacement program is similar to the incentives provided to retrofit and upgrade old, dirty diesel engines through the highly popular, bipartisan Diesel Emissions Reduction Act, a program that has provided $13 in health and economic benefits for every dollar of federal investment since 2005. In addition to improving public health by reducing harmful air pollution, WHERA would also boost demand for American-made wood stoves. I’m proud to partner once again with Senator Murkowski in this effort, and I’m optimistic that other colleagues will join us in supporting this important measure.”

“With our record-breaking summer heat it might seem like winter is a long way off, but the reality is it will be here before we know it. Unfortunately for many Alaskans, the thought of winter inevitably brings concerns about the cost of heating their homes,” Senator Murkowski said. “For many Alaskan communities, burning wood is the most affordable option to stay warm, but older heaters can contribute to local air pollution and affect public health. Our bill capitalizes on the benefits of woody biomass as an energy resource by taking important steps to help Alaskans, in a cost-effective way, transition to more efficient and cleaner-burning wood heaters. Giving Alaskans more affordable home heating options and reducing air pollution is a win for us and our environment.”

This bipartisan legislation has broad support from health and industry groups, including the American Lung Association, the Hearth, Patio & Barbecue Association and Northeast States for Coordinated Air Use Management (NESCAUM). 

“This is important legislation and we are fully behind the efforts of Senators Carper and Murkowski. It is time for a federal changeout program to be developed,” said Jack Goldman, President & CEO of the Hearth, Patio & Barbecue Association. “HPBA has long supported local woodstove changeout programs in many different regions throughout the country. They are excellent examples of the government, local businesses, and consumers working together to achieve their goals. A federal program will bring stability to these programs and empower communities across the U.S. to lower home heating bills and improve air quality while supporting local retailers.”

“Wood heater emissions pose serious threats to Americans’ lung health and even their lives,” said Harold P. Wimmer, National President and CEO of the American Lung Association. “The Lung Association’s 2019 ‘State of the Air’ report found wood stove use contributed to dangerous levels of particle pollution in some cities. This legislation is urgently needed to help eliminate older, dirtier wood heaters and replace them with cleaner ones to protect health of communities. We thank Senator Tom Carper and Senator Lisa Murkowski for their continued leadership in cleaning up dangerous pollution from wood heaters.” 

“Smoke from wood stoves is a pressing public health concern in the Northeast,” said Paul J. Miller, Executive Director of Northeast States for Coordinated Air Use Management. “There are advanced combustion and pollution control technologies now available that will reduce the public’s exposure to the air toxics and other pollutants in wood smoke, and providing incentives to help people buy these modern wood appliances will be a boon to the device manufacturers and the public.”

The PDF of the bill can be accessed here.

Specifically, the Wood Heaters Emissions Reduction Act would:

  • Authorize $75 million annually from fiscal year 2020 through 2025 for a new EPA grant program that provides incentives to households to change-out their old wood heaters for cleaner burning stoves. Based on data from the U.S. Census Bureau, an estimated 11.5 million homes use wood as a primary or secondary heat source, 58 percent of those homes are found in rural areas. It is estimated that 6 million residential wood heaters in operation today do not meet 1988 EPA Clean Air Act emission standards, much less the more recent emissions standards implemented in 2015.
  • Replace old wood heaters with new, efficient heaters and encourage the recycling of old heaters. The bill creates a voluntary program to replace older wood stoves with new, efficient, cleaner burning and properly installed heaters that at least meet stringent EPA emission standards.
  • Require funds to be made available to Indian tribes. EPA would make available no less than 4 percent of the funds for Indian tribes to use for maintenance and installation of the new stoves. The bill also directs EPA to use public educational outreach to develop incentives and consult Indian tribes to promote the replacement of old, inefficient wood heaters.
  • Result in cleaner air. Older, inefficient residential wood heaters can produce a deadly mix of particulate matter, carbon monoxide, volatile organic compounds, black carbon and air toxics, such as benzene and formaldehyde. EPA has determined that replacing just one old, inefficient wood heater is equivalent to taking five dirty diesel engines off the road and the monetized public health benefits from replacing the nation’s old, inefficient residential wood heaters would be up to $126 billion per year.