Albany Times Union: New rules curb dirty wood boilers

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Thursday, December 23, 2010

By JIMMY VIELKIND Capitol Bureau

ALBANY -- Wood-fired boilers cannot be used to burn trash, paper or other waste products under new rules approved Wednesday by the state's Owners cannot site new boilers -- common in rural areas for heating and waste disposal -- within 100 feet of adjacent property lines, unless they are used in agriculture. And the boilers may not be within 100 feet of a neighboring house.

New boilers sold in New York state must meet stricter emissions standards, including smokestacks at least 18 feet high. The regulations were opposed by the Farm Bureau and several Republican legislators but advocated by officials at the state Department of Environmental Conservation.

"What we're saying here is that there are 20 different units you can choose from that meet these standards," said Acting DEC Commissioner Peter Iwanowicz. He said the industry is offering cleaner boilers and the state wants users to burn clean, dry fuel.

The rules, which will take effect 30 days after they are delivered to the secretary of state, represent a scaled-back version of a proposal unveiled in April that also would have required boilers in use before September 2005 to be removed or replaced by August 2015.

The Review Board withdrew those regulations at an October meeting after taking comments over the summer at hearings around the state. DEC officials said at the time that more comment was needed. The regulations adopted Wednesday were first revealed early last week, and the board adopted them along with a resolution waiving the 30-day public comment period. One member, Agriculture and Markets Commissioner Patrick Hooker, abstained.

"Like the Grinch who stole Christmas, the DEC today has stepped way outside reasonable government protocol by bypassing public comment on a new set of regulations that will affect thousands of rural New Yorkers who heat their homes with wood boilers," said New York Farm Bureau President Dean Norton. "These regulations come at a time when fuel oil prices are skyrocketing and with a harsh winter forecast."

The state attorney general's office estimates more than 14,500 boilers were installed in the state between 1999 and 2007. The dirtiest versions can emit the same amount of air pollution as 1,000 oil furnaces, DEC officials said. The head of the American Lung Association in New York said he was pleased with the regulation, but that more must be done.

Iwanowicz said the regulations were "less stringent" than the original proposal, so no additional comment was needed.

Several Republican officials, including Assemblyman-elect Steve McLaughlin, said the process should have been followed.

"If somebody's sitting in the middle of a thousand-acre farm, I'm not a big fan of the government coming in and telling them what they can do. It is a home rule issue, rather than a blanket issue for the DEC across the state," said McLaughlin, R-Melrose. "This is kind of the heavy-handed government at the 11th hour of an outgoing administration sliding through their own agenda items without a proper public comment period."

Iwanowicz said existing wood-fired boilers will be addressed next year.