MAYVILLE - Changes made to the regulations regarding outdoor wood furnaces took many by surprise last week.
At a board meeting Wednesday, Dec. 22, the state Department of Environmental Conservation passed regulations it says are aimed at reducing pollution and adverse health impacts from the furnaces, which are also called boilers.
In a statement that same day, state Sen. Cathy Young, R-Olean, called the new regulations "hurriedly forced" by the DEC and alleged that, as they were done without public scrutiny, they may be illegal.
"This is one of the most egregious and appalling regulatory action by a state agency that I have ever witnessed," Young said. "DEC's actions are another blow to the upstate economy that hits people and small businesses at a time when they cannot afford more expenses."
Sen. Young continued on to call the changes "another example of big government gone wild ... shoving another expensive mandate down the throats of struggling taxpayers."
As reported by The Associated Press, new outdoor boilers sold in the state will now have to comply with strict air pollution regulations set to take effect in less than 30 days.
The heaters have become popular in rural areas because of the cost savings they offer. The outdoor furnaces look like an outhouse with a chimney, burning wood to heat water that's then piped into a home's radiator system. It can also be used to provide the home's hot water.
The DEC's acting commissioner, Peter Iwanowicz, told The Associated Press that the change is like the switch to cleaner cars equipped with catalytic converters. He said the new regulations prevent New York state from becoming a "dumping ground" for inefficient, polluting boilers that can no longer be sold in neighboring states that have enacted similar rules.
After public hearings this year, the DEC shelved regulations that would apply to existing boilers. Iwanowicz said revised rules for existing boilers would be presented in public meetings.
That's what Legislature Chairman Fred Croscut, R-Sherman, had been telling people interested in the issue.
"It's almost embarrassing to me because I had had several people ask me where this wood-burning issue was," Croscut said. "And I said that they, the DEC, was going to have another set of hearings before they implemented the recommendations. I was very surprised when I read the paper and found out that they enacted them."
Croscut went on to call the change "a slap in the face" to rural residents of New York state and small businesses alike.
"It's going to increase the cost for people that use wood boilers with the possible elimination in the future of the ones that are already here," Croscut said. "I hope that Governor Cuomo is encouraged to repeal it. I certainly am very happy that we've gotten the response that we have from Senator Young and also Farm Bureau, which has worked endless hours on this all the way from the beginning when they had the first set of public hearings."
In her news release, Young pointed out how the DEC had announced the Dec. 22 meeting on Sunday, Dec. 19 - so close to the Christmas holiday that it might not attract much notice.
She also delivered a letter detailing the "potential illegal use" of the unusual procedure to Iwanowicz on the day before the vote.
"DEC's arrogant disregard for the laws that govern rulemaking is astounding," Young said. "Their actions were done in secret without additional public input and these new regulations clearly are discriminatory toward rural areas."
At an October meeting, Young pointed out, the DEC had promised to hold a new public comment period before a set of revised regulations for both new and existing wood boilers would be enacted.
Like Croscut, Young said she is hopeful the "ill-conceived policy" will be reversed by the new governor.
"Governor-elect Cuomo has stated that he will work to grow the economy and help upstate," Young said. "He is on record as saying 'we must keep our agricultural industry competitive by ensuring it continues to generate income and grow.' Today, DEC has hurt thousands of farms and other Upstate small businesses."