Twenty-Six Health and Climate Organizations Call on EPA to Limit Pollution from Fossil Fuel-Fired Household Appliances

Fossil fuel appliances are a significant contributor to smog, petition alleges the lack of standard

Twenty-six health, environmental, and consumer protection groups (full list below) formally petitioned the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) today to protect public health from dangerous outdoor air pollution by listing residential and commercial heating appliances as a source category subject to regulation under section 111(b) of the Clean Air Act. The petition also calls on EPA to promptly set standards of performance requiring zero nitrogen oxide (NOx) emissions from newly manufactured water heaters and furnaces within the source category.

Under section 111(b), EPA is legally obligated to list any category of stationary sources that “cause[s], or contribute[s] significantly to, air pollution which may reasonably be anticipated to endanger public health or welfare,” and to issue performance standards for that category within one year of a listing decision. As the petition makes clear, there can be no dispute that residential and commercial heating appliances emit significant amounts of dangerous air pollution. The agency must therefore act swiftly to grant this petition and move forward with NOx pollution safeguards to protect families and communities.

Whether they burn methane gas -which is often referred to as “natural” gas-, oil, or propane, these appliances emit significant amounts of NOx (that forms ozone and soot), fine particulate matter, and carbon monoxide, which degrade air quality and jeopardize human health by causing cardiovascular and lung illnesses, hospital visits, missed school and work days, and premature death. Fossil fuel-fired appliances also emit major amounts of carbon dioxide (CO2), the primary greenhouse gas driving the climate crisis that is growing more severe with each passing day. And these pollution problems do not affect all communities equally, but impose disproportionate burdens on communities of color, low-income populations, children, elderly adults, and people with pre-existing conditions such as lung or heart diseases.

Unlike other sectors with comparable emissions that are already limited under the Clean Air Act, there are no standards limiting emissions from buildings, which is a dangerous oversight. More than half of the buildings in the United States rely on furnaces and water heaters powered by fossil fuels. In the United States, residential and commercial buildings now account for about 40% of total energy consumption and 14% of net greenhouse gas emissions, the substantial majority of which come from heating appliances.

Fortunately, a non-emitting technology already exists for heating appliances that is highly efficient, readily available and reasonably priced: electric heat pumps. The petition calls on EPA to phase in requirements that new water heaters and furnaces emit zero NOx emissions through the use of this critical technology, working cross-collaboratively with other federal agencies and with state and local policymakers to ensure a just and affordable transition away from fossil fuels for all communities.

In reaction to the petition being submitted to EPA, signatory groups released the following statements:

Sierra Club’s Building Electrification Campaign Deputy Director Amneh Minkara:
“Emissions from buildings have a harmful, and frankly scary, impact on human health and contribute significantly to the climate crisis. Yet the main driver of direct pollution from buildings, fossil fuel-fired heating appliances, are allowed to emit with no limits or oversight by the federal government. It is the duty of the EPA to keep the American public safe from breathing in these pollutants. By transitioning to heat pump technology that has zero NOx emissions, we can protect public health while also curbing climate pollution as a co-benefit. EPA must address this problem head-on by granting our petition and moving forward swiftly to mitigate deadly pollution from heating appliances.”

U.S. PIRG’s Director of Environment Campaigns Matt Casale:
“Air pollution from fossil fuel-powered home appliances, like gas furnaces and water heaters, is a serious problem for neighborhoods across the country. This invisible threat can lead to asthma and makes us more susceptible to respiratory illnesses – and it’s even worse for our children. We need to eliminate this pollution at its source. The EPA should swiftly adopt regulations that protect the health of our communities and help us secure a cleaner future for all Americans.”

Physicians for Social Responsibility’s Health Educator & Campaign Coordinator Zach Williams:
“Methane gas appliances produce dangerous air pollutants such as nitrogen dioxide and carbon monoxide. These air pollutants are associated with the development and exacerbation of many respiratory illnesses, including such as childhood asthma. Tackling the pollution from heating appliances is critical, and we must also address the indoor air pollution caused by fossil fuel-fired appliances, particularly gas stoves, whose pollutants are not routinely vented to the outdoors. These pollutants have a disproportionately larger effect on low-income communities and communities of color. In the interest of public health and environmental justice, PSR strongly urges more stringent emissions standards for gas appliances and for their inclusion as sources of pollution under the Clean Air Act.”

Full List of Petitioners:

350 Eugene
Electrify Corvallis
Electrify Now
Environment America
Evergreen Action
Green & Healthy Homes Initiative
Interfaith EarthKeepers
Mothers Out Front
National Center for Healthy Housing
New Buildings Institute (NBI)
New York Communities for Change
NY Public Interest Research Group
NY-GEO, New York Geothermal Energy Organization
Physicians for Social Responsibility
Public Health Law Center
Redwood Energy
Respiratory Health Association
Rewiring America
Sierra Club
WE ACT for Environmental Justice