|President Trump shaking hands with
his EPA Administrator, Scott Pruitt, a
prominent climate change skeptic.
The Hearth Patio & Barbecue Association (HPBA) moved to delay its lawsuit to allow the Trump administration time to review the settlement proposals that HPBA submitted in 2015 and 2016 and re-evaluate whether some issues can be settled out of court. The EPA and the environmental groups who intervened did not oppose the delay. They filed their motion
with the US Court of Appeals weeks before they would have had to meet the first filing deadline.
The original suit was consolidated to include challenges from HPBA, the Pellet Fuel Institute (FPI), Tulikivi and Richard Burns and Company. In November 2016, the EPA informed HPBA that it would not continue in settlement talks, but they did reach an amicable settlement with Tulikivi, a masonry heater company that wanted masonry heaters to be a regulated technology under the NSPS. The EPA is seeking additional information with regard to PFI’s lawsuit.
On March 16, 2017, the United States Court of Appeals approved the 90-day delay sought by HPBA and set a new briefing schedule
for the parties that plays out through the end of 2017. HPBA must file its brief with the court on June 26, laying out its final list of issues that it intends to litigate. After that, the EPA responds with its positions on September 26, revealing how it will defend those portions of their regulations.
Less than a month later, the interveners must file their briefs. Interveners include the American Lung Association, Clean Air Council, and the Environment and Human Health, Inc. They are represented by Timothy Ballo of Earthjustice.
HPBA is simultaneously moving a bill in Congress to delay the 2020 provisions of the NSPS by 3 years, which in turn will give the legal proceedings time to play out. Another bill would erase the wood heater NSPS altogether. HPBA does not support this, but some individual boiler and pellet producers support it.
“The Trump Administration is a wild card for all parties in the lawsuit and the Alliance for Green Heat urges all parties to support the core provisions of the NSPS,” said John Ackerly of the Alliance for Green Heat. “For the future of wood heating in the US, we need to protect the transition to cord wood testing and adopt affordable test methods that reflect how consumers use stoves,” Ackerly added.
A blog “Hearth industry lists grounds for lawsuit against EPA” by the Alliance for Green Heat in 2015 laid out more details of the substance and process of the lawsuit. One often overlooked point is that HPBA does not appear to be challenging the 2020 emission standards for wood or pellet stoves, but only for outdoor wood boilers and warm air furnaces.
Petitioners’ Brief(s) June 26, 2017
Respondent’s Brief September 26, 2017
Intervenor for Respondent’s Brief October 18, 2017
Petitioners’ Reply Brief(s) November 8, 2017
Deferred Appendix November 15, 2017
Final Briefs November 22, 2017
The Internet is full of opinions and reviews of wood pellet brands. However, data of actual properties of various wood pellet brands is hard to locate. It cost under $ 100 for a lab to test ash, moisture and BTU content of a pellet. We tested 4 popular brands, along with corn kernels, to see the variability between brands. Our overall conclusion: much less variability than we expected (except for the corn).
Conventional wisdom is that you should buy a couple bags of pellets to see how they work on yourstove before buying a ton or more. That’s good advice, as some stoves handle a much wider range of pellets, while others do not. It’s especially good advice in light of the lab testing we did, that shows little variation between moisture, ash and BTU content of four popular brands.
The four brands we bought – made by American Wood Fiber, Curran, Pennington’s, and Nation’s Choice – are all major brands but only represent a small fraction of available brands. Two of them are PFI certified, which means that they must meet certain quality guarantees and cannot have more than 1.0% ash, 8.0% moisture, and 0.5% fines, among various other requirements. All four brands of pellets we tested fell within the parameters required by PFI premium grade, for the criteria that we tested – ash and moisture. We did not test for fines or for durability or bulk density or chlorides – things that can be important for performance. The cost for testing those qualities is about $ 250, more than we wanted to spend for each test.
Pellet manufacturers, whether they are PFI certified or not, usually do not disclose actual BTU, ash or fines, but just say that they do not exceed a certain level.
Ash content: Ash is one of the biggest concerns of consumers since high ash pellets can clog up some stoves and require more cleaning. Of the four brands we tested, the ash content was relatively similar, ranging from about 0.3% to 0.6%, far below the acceptable level under the PFI certified standard of 1.0%.
Whether your stove is 60% efficient or 80% efficient, you will get more heat from a pellet with more BTUs. Some pellet brands may have up to 8,800 BTUs per pound and some only 8,000. Still, only a 9% difference, would be $ 250 a ton and $ 272 a ton. The higher BTU pellets we tested had 8,439 BTUs per pound, 5% more than the lowest BTU brand, which had 8,011.
Moisture content varied even less than ash and BTU content between the four brands we tested. The low was 5.1% and the high was 5.8%. PFI allows up to 8%.
Price on all these 4 brands can vary depending on the time of year, the location, the seller, and whether or not a ton is purchased. Pennington’s, Nation’s Choice, and Curran have all been available at big box outlets in the $ 250/ton range over the past several months. The American Wood Fiber Ultra Premium White Pine is more expensive, as 100% softwood pellets tend to be, especially on the east coast.
Options for future testing
Testing and publishing the BTU, moisture and ash content of dozens of common wood pellet brands would be a great resource for consumers. Please let us know if you agree or have suggestions about how to develop and maintain a reliable, independent data base of pellet characteristics.
This report and the pellet testing was supported in part by a grant from the Maryland-based Rouse Charitable Foundation.