Over the past several months, my office has received hundreds of letters from constituents concerned about an Ohio Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) proposal to slap strict rules on the use of outdoor wood-fired boilers.
With the price of natural gas, electricity and other resources on the rise, many Ohioans have turned to these wood-powered heating units-which warm water that is pumped through insulated pipes into a person's home-as a more cost-effective way of meeting their long-term energy needs. In fact, the number of Ohio homes that use wood as the primary heating source rose 27 percent in three years, to more than 71,700 in 2006, according to the U.S. Census Bureau.
Unfortunately, the use of outdoor wood burners hit a major road block in February. Citing environmental concerns and nuisance complaints, the Ohio EPA issued a series of rules designed to reduce smoke particle emissions from the devices, including smokestack height limits, setback requirements from adjacent properties, rules for acceptable fuel use and boiler performance standards. These regulations would not only apply to homeowners but manufacturers, suppliers and distributors.
While it is important to protect the health of all Ohioans and work to ensure our communities are safe, desirable places to live, the Ohio EPA's efforts to restrict the use of outdoor wood burners went too far. For instance, the agency would have required all wood boilers to be placed at least 200 feet away from any neighboring property line, essentially eliminating their use in many areas. In addition, the proposed rules required that smokestacks on all boilers be at least five feet higher than the peak of any roof within 150 feet.
In the days following the release of this proposal, letters, phone calls and emails began pouring in to members of the General Assembly from boiler owners across the state, who were concerned about meeting the EPA's proposed requirements and worried about their ability to safely and cost-effectively heat their homes. Many of these citizens talked about saving thousands of dollars a year on their utility bills with wood-fire furnaces, using the extra money to cover the cost of a mortgage, food, medicine and other necessities.
My colleagues and I in the Senate responded by drafting a firm letter to Ohio EPA Director, Chris Korleski, explaining the potential impact of his agency's decision on hard-working families and asking him to delay the rule-making process to allow legislators and other interested parties across the state to weigh in on the issue.
I am happy to report that this past week, Director Korleski said his agency has backed down from its original proposal to strictly regulate outdoor wood-fired boilers and is now seeking a compromise plan. He admitted that the rules were "pretty aggressive" and said that the Ohio EPA heard from several legislators and other people across the state, who influenced the agency's decision.
While I respect the work of the Ohio EPA and understand the importance of maintaining a clean, healthy environment, it is essential that we also consider the impact that further regulation could have on the financial stability of Ohio families and the growth of our economy. To that end, I was pleased to see the EPA decide to step back and reconsider its proposal. I would also like to thank everyone in the 1st Senate District and across Ohio for their thoughts and opinions on the matter. Your efforts truly made a difference. Moving forward, I will continue to monitor this issue closely.
I encourage all residents of the 1st Senate District to contact me with any questions, thoughts or concerns, or if you need assistance working with a state government agency. You can write me, Senator Steve Buehrer, Ohio Senate, Statehouse, Columbus, Ohio, 43215, or contact me by phone at (614) 466-8150. In addition, I can be reached by email at SD01@mailr.sen.state.oh.us.