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Wood stoves top air quality discussion

| October 13, 2004 12:00 AM

By Brent Shrum Western News Reporter

Local, state and federal officials met last week to begin planning aimed at bringing the Libby area into compliance with new air quality standards, which could lead to tighter restrictions on wood stoves.

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency is in the process of listing Libby as a non-attainment area under PM-2.5 standards, which regulate fine particulate matter. Listings will be finalized in December, and a control plan must be adopted within three years. The EPA will then have one year to review the plan.

Representatives of the EPA and the Montana Department of Environmental Quality met in Libby on Thursday with city and county officials to open discussions on the development of the plan. DEQ is planning surveys to gather information on local wood stove use, which has been identified as the major source of PM-2.5 emissions through a study conducted by the University of Montana Center for Environmental Health Sciences. The study found that 82 percent of PM-2.5 emissions came from wood stoves.

The Libby area is already listed as a non-compliance area under older PM-10 standards, which regulate larger particles. Under that listing, restrictions were put in place on road sanding, and newly installed wood stoves were required to be EPA-certified. Existing non-certified stoves are allowed under a permit system, and emissions are regulated to 20-percent opacity.

According to county sanitarian Ron Anderson, a PM-2.5 mitigation plan could include a ban on all wood stoves not certified by the EPA.

PM-2.5 regulations are based on an annual average of daily average concentrations. Libby exceeds the allowable level by about 20 percent.

Roughly half of the permitted stoves in the Libby area are not EPA-certified. Certified stoves release about half the emissions of non-certified stoves, so replacing all the non-certified stoves with certified stoves could result in Libby meeting the standards, said DEQ representative John Coefield.

Pellet stoves release only about 10 percent of the emissions of a non-certified stove, Coefield said, and are a good choice for clean heat where natural gas is not available.

³They are incredibly cleaner than a conventional wood stove,² he said.

The state already offers a $500 tax incentive for the purchase of an EPA-certified stove, said DEQ air program manager Bob Habeck. Additional incentives could be developed as part of the plan to reduce local PM-2.5 concentrations not only to match current requirements but also to meet even stricter standards that could be enacted in the future, Habeck suggested.

³That¹s the challenge before us,² he said. ³How much bang for the buck can we get through the initial community effort to get some stoves in?²

Many of the non-certified stoves in the area are getting old and may be ready for replacement anyway, Anderson said.

³We¹re hoping a lot of that will play into it,² he said.

The Libby area is the only place in the West outside of California to be designated for non-attainment of the new standards. EPA representative Barbara Roberts suggested that Libby could be a good site for a demonstration project because of its isolation. Such a project could bring in money for studies, she said.

Another meeting on the mitigation plan will be scheduled for early next year.