State seeks wood boiler rules

DEC hopes to curb pollution, catching up with local regs

ALBANY–The state Department of Environmental Conservation has finally issued long awaited regulations dealing with outdoor wood boilers. But communities around the county have already begun to address the issue with their own regulations, though the state rules may prove more restrictive.

Available on the DEC’s website,, the proposed new rules establish emission limits and siting requirements for new outdoor wood boilers (OWBs), along with stack height and operating requirements for both new and existing OWBs. The DEC also proposes to phase out existing OWBs by August 31, 2020. A new OWB is a unit would be one that begins operation on or after April 15, 2011.

Part of the reason for the new rules is because “a regulation detailing the compliance requirements that owners/operators must meet” is necessary so DEC staff can effectively resolve nuisance complaints, according to the “Needs and Benefits” rationale for the proposals.

The press release announcing the new proposals was released by the DEC April 22, Earth Day, with the timing not coincidental. “As we celebrate the 40th Anniversary of Earth Day, we are taking yet another step in the pursuit of clean air for all New Yorkers,” DEC Commissioner Pete Grannis said in the release, adding, “This proposal will ensure that new outdoor wood boilers are cleaner, and that existing boilers be used in the most environmentally sound way possible.”

The interest in regulating these devices does not come as a surprise to local environmental officials. In its recommendation to the Columbia County Board of Supervisors in October 2009, the Columbia County Environmental Management Council (EMC) noted that despite known hazards associated with OWBs no federal or state regulations governing their construction, installation or use exist.

But the draft OWB regulations that have been pending in the Governor’s Office of Regulatory Reform since December 2008, have now made it to the proposal stage, according to Ed Simonsen, chair of the county EMC.

With the use of OWBs on the increase in the county and controversy stirring over their use in certain communities, the EMC examined information available at the time and came up with recommendations that the Board of Supervisors accepted.

The recommendations include chimney or stack heights of not less than 18 feet, setback requirements, a prohibition on burning anything other than seasoned firewood, prohibition of burning between May 1 and September 30 and the phasing out of non-conforming OWBs, all of which are addressed in the DEC proposal.

Cold winters in the northeast and sometimes “a large supply of firewood” make outdoor boilers appear attractive, said Mr. Simonsen by email, but “typical unimproved outdoor wood fired boilers… produce very large amounts of air polluting contaminants. New re-designed boilers can dramatically reduce the output of noxious substances.”

Proposed state regulations concerning OWBs “may not meet air quality standards that we may desire [but they] move OWB use in that direction,” said Mr. Simonsen.

In the absence of state regulations, the Town of Copake and the Village of Kinderhook went ahead and enacted their own restrictions.

Copake Councilwoman Linda Gabaccia, who worked on developing Copake’s law adopted in February, said the local law hits many of the points contained in the DEC proposal including allowable fuel and air quality standards.

She said the DEC proposal is more stringent on stack height and existing OWBs, and imposes a blackout period, when the devices cannot be used, which the town law does not. The councilwoman also noted that the town’s provision for site plan review of new installations will address concerns about setbacks from neighbors.

Some minor “tweaking” of the town law might be considered along with information meetings to assist owners of existing OWBs about how to bring them into compliance, said Ms. Gabaccia, noting the need to “strike a balance” with people’s need to burn wood in the Northeast.

The local law passed by Kinderhook village officials last December prohibits the installation of any new wood boilers in the village and strictly regulates the use of the two existing OWBs.

The Town of Kinderhook still has a moratorium in place on the installation of OWBs, extended for another three months at the February Town Board meeting. A meeting with a state Department of State representative is scheduled for May 10 at 7 p.m. at the Town Hall.

Other communities around the county are also looking into the issue:

*Livingston town officials have a public hearing scheduled “to create town zoning regulations on outdoor wood burning furnaces,” May 13 at 6:30 p.m. at the Town Hall.

*Austerlitz officials were considering a local law on OWBs as far back as last year, according to Supervisor Jeff Braley. When the new administration took office in January, workshops took place and Mr. Braley said he drafted a preliminary document.

When he heard that DEC was going to come up with statewide regulations, it made sense that the town should not waste further time, effort and resources on developing their own, Mr. Braley said in a phone interview May 5.

The supervisor said the proposed DEC regulation is “quite precise” in terms of allowable emissions and contains an “excessive stack height.” He said the law the town was considering was “less stringent” due to the town’s rural nature and abundance of wood. Mr. Braley questioned whether DEC will be able to enforce the regulation if and when it is adopted.

*The OWB issue has also been discussed by the Stockport Town Board and the Chatham Town Board. Stockport Supervisor Leo Pulcher could not be reached by press time.

*According to minutes of Chatham Town Board meetings posted online, in January, Deirdre Henderson, the town’s representative to the County Environmental Management Council, brought the board up to speed on OWBs and regulations enacted by other municipalities.

At the board’s February meeting, residents Randi Walker and Melissa Pollack said they wanted the board “to take a proactive stance” on OWBs, but the board took no action on the matter. In March, Ms. Henderson asked the board to “reconsider” its decision to take no action on OWBs in light of negative health effects documented in an Attorney General’s report.

Chatham Supervisor Jesse DeGroodt declined to talk about the matter on the record in a May 4 phone call and would only say that it is possible that the Town Board might consider a future regulation.

The DEC plans to hold hearings on the proposals at various locations around the state. The closest ones to Columbia County are: Tuesday, June 8, at the agency’s Central Office, 625 Broadway, Public Assembly Room 129, Albany, NY 12233 and Monday, June 21, Norrie Point Environmental Center, Margaret Lewis Norrie State Park, 256 Norrie Point Way, Staatsburg, NY 12580.

Written comments on the DEC’s regulatory proposal will be accepted through July 2 at 5 p.m. and should be directed to:

John Barnes, P.E.; New York State Department of Environmental Conservation; Division of Air Resources; 625 Broadway, 2nd Floor; Albany, 12233-3251; telephone (518) 402-8396; email:

To contact Diane Valden email .

Comments are closed.