The Supreme Court of the State of New York today granted a preliminary injunction in a case brought against the state’s Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC) by public health and environmental organizations last week. The groups asked the court to stop the state agency from allowing the continued sale of dirty outdoor wood boilers that endanger public health and can exacerbate asthma symptoms. The court’s ruling from the bench today restrains the DEC from implementing its April 15 “emergency” rule allowing the sale of the polluting wood boilers until July. The court will decide the merits of the underlying action on June 20.
“New Yorkers from Buffalo to the Bronx can breathe easier today thanks to the Supreme Court of the State of New York’s decision to block the sale of dirty outdoor wood boilers,” said Ross Gould, Air & Energy Program Director, Environmental Advocates of New York. “The Department of Environmental Conservation’s fake ‘emergency’ has been called off, and everyone who cares about clean air is grateful.”
Last year, the DEC recognized the serious public health consequences of outdoor wood boilers (OWBs) by putting limits on boilers sold after April 15, 2011. However, on that date the agency unexpectedly delayed implementation of the new pollution limits for three months, citing unsubstantiated economic reasons. According to the groups that filed suit, every day the state allows outdoor wood boilers to be sold is another day that New Yorkers across the state face the threat of dirty wood boilers spewing toxic pollution in their communities for decades.
“DEC was wrong to adopt an emergency rule that put New Yorkers’ health at risk in the first place,” said Michael Seilback, Vice President of Communications and Public Policy at the American Lung Association in New York. “We look forward to a favorable ruling that puts a final halt to the sale of these polluting units that deprive New Yorkers of the clean, healthy air they need and deserve.”
OWBs are a substantial source of air pollution. One OWB can emit as much fine particulate matter air pollution as 1,000 oil furnaces. OWBs also emit toxic air pollutants that are known carcinogens. These emissions are a public health hazard, triggering eye, nose, throat, and lung irritation, worsening asthma symptoms, and causing decreased lung function and cardiovascular problems over the long-term. OWBs also contribute to global warming by emitting black carbon. By some calculations, one pound of black carbon can cause up to 700 times the atmospheric warming of one pound of carbon dioxide.
In New York State, OWB sales have increased from 606 units in 1999, to an estimated 2,640 units in 2007. During this time, the boilers have gone largely unregulated. Although the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency implements a voluntary program encouraging OWB manufacturers to achieve certain emission limits, and some local municipalities have regulated the boilers in response to public complaints, the DEC had no effective regulations in place until it adopted OWB pollution limits on December 29, 2010 after a three-year rulemaking.
“The court agreed that we showed a strong likelihood that DEC’s abrupt decision to allow the continued sale of dirty boilers was invalid. New Yorkers have the right to breathe clean air. After three years of consulting with stakeholders and the public to develop a rule limiting pollution from outdoor wood boilers, distributors had plenty of time to prepare for the new health-protective standards,” said Hannah Chang of Earthjustice, who represented Environmental Advocates of New York and the American Lung Association in New York in court.
According to the American Lung Association in New York and Environmental Advocates of New York, grievances about wood smoke emissions from outdoor wood boilers are one of the most frequently voiced complaints their organizations hear from the public each year.