Joylette Portlock, western Pennsylvania outreach coordinator, before the PADEP

Proposed rulemaking on Outdoor Wood Boilers (OWBs)
Cranberry Township, Dec. 2, 2009

Good afternoon. I am Dr. Joylette Portlock, Western Pennsylvania Outreach Coordinator with Citizens for Pennsylvania’s Future, also known as PennFuture. We are a statewide environmental advocacy organization with offices in Pittsburgh, Harrisburg, Philadelphia, Wilkes-Barre, and West Chester. I am here today from our Pittsburgh office in support of the proposed rule regulating outdoor wood boilers.

Learn about PennFuture's work on OWB regulation.

Here in Southwestern Pennsylvania, we have a special history with dirty air. And though our air is a lot cleaner than it was decades ago, it’s still got a way to go before we can truly call it clean. Right now, the air in Beaver, Butler, Allegheny, Washington and Westmoreland counties is not meeting federal health standards for fine soot pollution. PennFuture has recently launched an air quality campaign in Southwestern Pennsylvania called Breathe Easy Stay, Healthy. Through this campaign, we hope to make sure that our region can again meet the standards for air pollution that have been set to protect our health.

According to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, or EPA, "scientific studies report potentially serious adverse health effects from breathing smoke emitted by residential wood combustion." U.S. EPA cites fine soot pollution and air toxics as the source of these health effects, and notes that fine soot pollution is linked to asthma, reduced lung function, heart problems, and premature death in people with heart and lung disease.

A 2006 report found that average fine soot pollution from one outdoor wood boiler equaled the pollution from 22 EPA certified wood stoves, 205 oil furnaces, up to 8,000 natural gas furnaces, or four heavy duty diesel trucks.

The rule proposed by the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection would significantly reduce nuisance and health effects from outdoor wood boilers, requiring new units to meet U.S. EPA Phase 2 requirements and requiring new units to be set back from property lines. The rule would also protect neighbors to existing boilers from harmful effects by setting minimum stack heights and the rule includes a commonsense prohibition on the burning of fuel other than wood, with few exceptions. In addition to these measures, PennFuture hopes that DEP will restore the provision in this rule to limit or prohibit the use of wood boilers in the summer when they are less necessary for home heating. This would provide significant quality of life benefits to neighbors, who report that they sometimes must keep their windows closed even in the warmer months to keep out smoke and odors. Municipal response to these problems has been inadequate. These neighbors need DEP's help.

The proposed rule will help reduce smoke, odors, and harmful health effects from outdoor wood boilers, and will help reduce levels of fine soot pollution in the commonwealth.

We believe the proposed rule offers flexibility. Subject to some conditions, the rule allows the continued use of older wood boilers. The rule includes a mechanism for Department approval of additional alternative fuels. The rule does not apply to units sold in Pennsylvania for shipment and use outside Pennsylvania.

We support adoption of the wood boiler rule. But we note that adoption of this rule will not end the challenges regarding wood boilers. In these tough budget times, DEP will need to develop an enforcement strategy that leverages the resources of other agencies. We look forward to assisting DEP in the effective implementation of this rule to protect neighbors, and to improve air quality. At PennFuture, we have heard from people across the state who have experienced negative health impacts from nearby wood boilers and who know firsthand what the health problems from neighboring boilers can be. By the same token, we also know that most people want to be good neighbors. We ask that the state make it that much easier, and protect our health by passing this important rule. Thank you for the opportunity to comment here today.

Note: PennFuture staff members presented similar testimony in Wilkes-Barre and Harrisburg.