Farm Bureau, O'Mara protest wood boiler action

Staff reports

The New York Farm Bureau threatened legal action last week over the state Department of Environmental Conservation’s plan to nail down new regulations for outdoor wood boilers this coming week.

Likewise, in a strongly worded letter to state Department of Environmental Conservation Acting Commissioner Pete Iwanowicz, New York State Senator-elect Tom O’Mara (R-C, Big Flats) is urging state officials to immediately put a stop to the enactment of any new regulations restricting the use of outdoor wood-burning boilers.

O’Mara and other opponents of the new restrictions, including the New York Farm Bureau, have objected to the new costs and other hardships that would be imposed on farmers and rural residents and business owners under the proposed action.

The DEC’s new regulations have been the source of controversial public hearings throughout 2010.  In October, the department pledged to take no further action before holding additional public forums next year.

It was revealed late last week, however, that the DEC’s Environmental Review Board is meeting today (Dec. 22) in Albany to consider new regulations that will, if enacted, put in place new setback, stack height, certification and paperwork requirements affecting new boilers put into use on and after April 15, 2011.

The farm bureau, a lobbying organization of some 30,000 member farm families, has been battling the DEC for months, saying new regulations aimed at reducing air pollution will backfire by creating significant financial hardship for farmers and others in rural areas.

“In October, DEC released new proposed changes to the regulations on outdoor wood boilers that would prove major and costly, and will make it harder to use outdoor wood boilers as a heating option for many rural New Yorkers,” stated the bureau.

At issue are several points including new requirements for chimney stack heights and a prohibition on the use of boilers in the northern half of the state between June 1 and Aug. 31; and the southern half, between May 15 and Sept. 30. That means owners would not be able to heat water with boilers in those months, forcing them to use conventional fossil fuel-burning equipment.

“We were told by DEC officials in October that there would be a new round of public comment before enacting a set of revised wood boiler regulations,” said Dean Norton, bureau president. “We took them at their word, which apparently was a mistake. If these regulations are approved under these circumstances, NYFB will be exploring possible legal remedies to the situation.”

DEC spokeswoman Lori Severino said the DEC on Dec. 22 will not make any changes in rules for existing boilers. The changes will apply solely to new, outdoor wood boilers.

“In terms of dealing with existing boilers, there will be additional outreach for that,” she said.

The DEC will schedule meetings with stakeholders regarding regulating existing boilers, she said, to include homeowners, manufacturers, farmers and environmental groups. Detail on those meetings are yet to be announced.

Guidelines for new boilers will ensure the new ones “burn 90 percent cleaner than existing ones,” she said, by using cleaner fuels such as clean, untreated wood. Severino said the DEC reviewed all the comments and concerns about regulating new boilers and took those into consideration. That resulted in the regulations to be approved Dec. 22 leaving more flexibility for farmers in terms of set-backs and other requirements, she said.

“It gives farmers more ability to place wood boilers where they are needed,” Severino added.

“As you know, the resolution of this controversial issue holds potentially significant consequences, financial and otherwise, for thousands of New York farmers and residents within my legislative district and across rural New York,” O’Mara wrote in his letter to Iwanowicz. “Consequently, many of us welcomed the department’s pledge in October to take no definitive regulatory action without first holding additional public hearings.  I’m sure you can appreciate our current frustration, then, when it now appears that the department is preparing to enact new restrictions on the use of wood boilers at the December 22nd meeting.

“To put it as simply and straightforwardly as I possibly can: it’s bad timing, it’s bad public policy, and it’s a bad process.  Outdoor wood boilers constitute an essential heating source for many rural New Yorkers.  To restrict their use now, at the onset of winter, is unfair and unreasonable.  It simply indicates a state bureaucracy that is out of touch and insensitive to the needs and concerns of rural New York.