PANAMA - Outdoor wood boiler regulations being imposed by the state Department of Environmental Conservation are nonsensical and detrimental to the economy, rural advocates said Thursday.
Among those gathered at Goldberg Plumbing and Heating in Panama to express their discontent were Chautauqua County Farm Bureau members, manufacturers and dealers of outdoor wood boilers, and representatives from the state legislature - state Sen. Cathy Young, R-Olean, and Assemblyman Andy Goodell, R-Chautauqua County. All shared their outrage with the DEC's decision to limit and regulate wood boiler usage to an extent that will cause hardships to many in rural settings.
''The problem for us is the uncertainty of all this, not only the thought of legislation and rules changes,'' said John Goldberg, owner of Goldberg Plumbing and Heating. ''I guess my question for the DEC and the government is, 'How much legislation can we take?'''
Above, Ben Lewis of Kiantone, center, presents petitions bearing more than 3,500 signatures opposing wood boiler regulations to state Sen. Cathy Young, R-Olean, and Assemblyman Andy Goodell, R-Chautauqua County, at Goldberg Plumbing and Heating in Panama on Thursday. Below, Ben DeBruyn, right, national trainer for wood boiler manufacturer ProFab Industries, demonstrates a gasification boiler along with Joseph Jensen, territory manager for the company.
P-J photos by Dave Emke
The DEC regulations, which were approved without any opportunity for public comment Dec. 22, require all outdoor wood boilers to be set at least 100 feet back from property lines and to have stack heights of 18 feet.
Further regulations prevent rural residents from using boilers during certain times of the year, creating problems for those who use units to heat their water - not to mention on days when the weather becomes unseasonably cold, as it was Thursday morning.
Those in attendance at the news conference Thursday morning unanimously stated that those guidelines represent unnecessary and potentially devastating restraints upon a heating source that has become much cleaner within the past decade.
Goldberg said that his business and many others were left in a difficult position when the DEC announced its new regulations. With many thousands of dollars in boilers in stock that will very soon no longer be considered compliant, the small businesses are now faced with a difficult task.
''It's like trying to sell someone a new car, but telling them that in three months, they're going to have to put a bigger motor into it,'' he said. ''That's a hard sale for us as business owners.''
To date, only two models of wood boilers have been officially certified by the DEC to be sold legally in New York state. Last week, the department issued a 90-day extension of its April 15 deadline to allow dealers with non-certified models in stock to transfer them.
Also represented at the event were wood boiler manufacturers ProFab and Econoburn, the latter of which is based in Brocton and is a division of Dunkirk Metal Products. Representatives from ProFab gave a demonstration of a new-model outdoor wood boiler, showing how its gasification system eliminates smoke and ash output and reduces emissions to water vapor.
Joseph Jensen, territory manager for ProFab, said that technology can't get much cleaner than what has been developed today. Requiring 18-foot stacks and 100-foot setback requirements for units that emit no smoke, he said, is ''silly.''
''If I look at what New York state has done, it would be that they have created setback and stack-height requirements for the old technology and now are applying them to the new technology,'' he said. ''That is not helpful at all.''
THOUSANDS OF CONCERNED LOCALS
Manufacturers and dealers of the boilers are not the only ones concerned about the new regulations. Ben Lewis, a Kiantone resident, presented a stack of petitions - bearing the signatures of more than 3,500 local residents - to Young and Goodell during the event as a measure of support for helping to overturn the DEC's decisions.
While Lewis said he doesn't burn firewood himself, he said he felt compelled to do something after seeing statements in the news from Young and Chautauqua County Legislator Fred Croscut expressing concern to the public about the DEC's wood boiler legislation. Saying he was upset about what he viewed as a continuation of the over-regulation by the state and federal governments upon the nation's citizens, he began a personal campaign to help.
Lewis said he spoke with representatives from Young's office who gave him guidelines as to how he should go about beginning a petition-signing drive. From there, he began traveling the countryside looking for support - and he says it was not difficult to find.
''When I'd see a woodpile in somebody's lawn or on the porch, I'd stop and knock and tell them what I was doing,'' he said. ''I knocked on a lot of doors and never had anybody tell me 'no' - there are a lot of people disturbed about this.''
Young said that she is sponsoring a bill in the Senate that would allow local governments to make decisions about such issues, rather than having them be made at the state level.
''To me, it's just common sense that the people who are leading their local communities know those communities much better than bureaucrats in Albany,'' she said. ''I believe very strongly that we can have a brighter future in our state if we start to focus on the economy, on making it a more friendly business climate, and making sure that we're paying attention to our citizens' needs.''
Goodell added that the idea of government is to enact policies that are helpful for people, not that are against the best wishes of the majority.
''The legislations that went in just before Christmas without full public disclosure do not reflect the reality of what's happening here in Chautauqua County and across Upstate New York,'' he said. ''The problem is that the bureaucrats making the regulations don't understand the technology, they don't understand our area, they don't understand the importance of renewable resources as an ongoing issue.''
Young said that she would be delivering copies of the petitions Lewis collected to DEC officials, showing the outrage of Chautauqua County residents toward their actions.
Most of the signatures were collected in the Clymer, North Clymer, Sherman, Sinclairville and Jamestown areas, Lewis said. He said that given the ease with which he was able to collect more than 3,500 signatures, he would knock on many more doors and collect even more if they are needed for action to be taken.
''I could get 10,000 signatures just like nothing,'' he said. ''If (Sen. Young) needs 20,000 signatures and if that would help, I would be more than willing to do it.''