Boiler owners steaming mad at DEC

John Christensen
Wood boilers are in the center of a firestorm between regulators and users.

New York’s Dept. of Environmental Conservation bureaucracy has become even less popular in upstate regions, if such a thing is possible. Acting “Like a thief in the night,” according to Assemblyman Brian Kolb, the DEC has met to enact new and severe restrictions on external wood boilers without the public input they promised. The lack of public hearings and scheduling their meeting only three days before Christmas has outraged citizens and representatives alike.

“It is difficult to believe it was anything other than intentional that the meeting was scheduled so close to a major holiday and religious observance to ensure a minimum of public notice and media coverage,” said Kolb in his strongly worded Dec. 17 letter to Acting DEC Commissioner Peter Iwanowicz. “Not only is this an ill-advised public policy, the questionable manner in which it is being advanced demonstrates why so many New Yorkers do not trust their state government.”

Glenn Quackenbush, owner of Quackenbush Hardware in Hall and dealer of wood boilers, has little good to say about the DEC’s ways of adding regulations. “They don’t want to hear what the public has to say,” he says. The public meetings were all scheduled at 5 p.m. on weekdays in cities. “How is anybody who lives in this area and works for a living supposed to make it to a meeting in Batavia by 5 o’clock?” asked Quackenbush.

Despite the inconvenience and distance, Quackenbush made that meeting in June. “The panel was made up of three DEC engineers, a lawyer, a stenographer, and two DEC cops. During most of the meeting, two of the engineers weren’t even in the room, which I found insulting,” said Quackenbush, adding, “There were about 100 people in the audience. Out of them, almost everyone spoke against the new regulations. Only two people had complaints about boilers and only because they had been installed in villages.

“During the meeting, one panel member claimed there had been over 100 complaints about the smoke from wood boilers. Another claimed it was over 200, but then a lady in the audience held up a Freedom Of Information request she had filed with the state that showed there had been only 70 complaints in 10 years. That’s out of 20,000 wood boilers in New York,” said Quackenbush. “This is and should be a matter for local zoning and the EPA. It’s not the DEC’s job. They’ve got plenty of other things they should be doing. If the boilers are making a lot of smoke, it’s because people are burning something they shouldn’t, like green wood or garbage. There are already rules about that. Just enforce them.”

According to Quackenbush, the DEC engineer told the audience the new regulations could not and would not be passed in their current form or without more input from the public. But in a statement from Lori Severino from the DEC Office of Media Relations emailed to The Chronicle-Express, “There were changes made to the regulations on new outdoor wood boilers that was (sic) presented and passed by the Environmental Board yesterday. This portion of the new regulations for outdoor wood boilers did not go through another public process.”  

“They lied to us,” said Quackenbush.

The new regulations can be viewed online at http://www.dec.ny.gov/chemical/69348.html

The new boilers the DEC demands will cost $4,000 to $6,000  more than the current models, according to Quackenbush, which will price most of his customers out of the market.  “These people cut and burn their own wood because they have to.” He wonders how  they are going to afford $16,000 for a new boiler when the DEC says their existing boiler has to be replaced in 2015, the date proposed for all pre-2005 boilers to be shut down.  

Severino does say that planned regulations on existing boilers will be discussed publicly before being enacted by the board.

Calling the DEC “arrogant bureaucrats who work in high-rises with heat paid for by the taxpayers,” Quackenbush condemned New York as unfriendly to businesses and its rural citizens. “They just want to regulate (boilers) out of existence and don’t care if people can’t afford to heat their homes any other way. These are safe, efficient, economical and, if used correctly, very clean burning.”

With an estimated 600-700 homes, farms, and business in the area between Seneca and Canandaigua Lakes depending on wood boilers, these new regulations will have a significant economic impact on our region.