WHEN A GREAT IDEA LIKE CLEAN AIR GETS THE FEDERAL GOVERNMENT (EPA) INVOLVED IT TURNS INTO A NIGHTMARE.
#kuumaquality #smallbusiness #builtlikeatank #smalltownmanufacturing #americansteel #shopsmall #generationalfamilybusiness
YOU CAN’T EVEN MAKE SOME OF THIS STUFF UP!
Many of the links below are clickable with supporting documentation.
The above video was recorded in January, over a month after we found out we had successfully completed re-certification by the testing company. Less than a week later, we were told that they had made another mistake, and this is the reason why we must do an additional full retest within 5 years.
General Summary of EPA (Environmental Protection Agency) Emission Testing
Lamppa MFG developed the cleanest burning wood furnace back in the 1970s. We proceed to bust our tails for the next 40 years with (2-4) employees, scraping by until we become the first furnace to be EPA certified, not only for Phase 1 but also for Phase 2 in 2017. Our furnace is the cleanest burning and most efficient ever tested. No other company skipped Phase 1 and went right for the final Phase 2 certification. Research and development, plus the final testing, took us multiple years and hundreds of thousands of dollars to complete. To put that in perspective, our gross (not net) revenue in 2016 was $487,101.
After achieving Phase 2 EPA certification, Lamppa MFG moved to a new facility funded by the IRRRB, based on Lamppa’s EPA Phase 2 certification and fantastic sauna stoves. To our knowledge, our sauna stoves are the cleanest burning and most efficient on the market. We also spent the money and time to put a patent on our furnace. With the increased demand, we quadrupled in size (16-18 employees) over the last 4 years. With accelerated growth during COVID in the manufacturing industry, where there has been roadblock after roadblock to remain operational, came many challenges. This resulted in the business not being profitable during this entire span. We have even had to invest personal capital on multiple occasions to stay operational. Factoring in all of this, we were still able to increase employees’ wages, add health benefits, and switch to a four-day workweek for a better work-life balance. We have strived to create quality jobs and a great work environment before focusing on profitability. With many places struggling to find employees, we have a waiting list. We finally felt like we turned the corner a few months ago with the high demand for furnaces caused by the rising energy costs. Due to the demand, we ordered a ton of material for furnace manufacturing.
By chance, we saw something about EPA renewals on the Alliance for Green Heat website and dug out our certification letter. We see our renewal is coming up on Sep 1st, 2022. It has been 5 years since our certification. Imagine how many people would be without a valid driver’s license if a reminder wasn’t mailed out. (I recommend they update this and include a reminder 6 months out). Thinking we had a couple of months to get recertification, we figured we had no problem as there are only 3 forced air companies on the market. When we reached out to the EPA, we were told they requested 90 days to review recertifications, which they told us is on their website. However, there is no mention of this in our certification letter or any other formal correspondence. So we sent in our recertification request.
On August 30th, we received a formal letter (attached) requesting revised certification test reports to address documentation problems and irregularities. In a separate phone call, we were told that we would not be able to ship new orders effective Sep 1st, 2022 until this was resolved. This is the beginning of the furnace season and our busy time. As stated before, we just purchased hundreds of thousands of dollars of material in anticipation of our busiest furnace season ever. With the scaling up of production as we have, through cash flow (no investors), we know we don’t have time to sit on materials and potential missed sales. So we immediately panic, thinking this can’t be happening. When we went through the issues threatening to take us off the market, we realized it was minor paperwork issues, or so we thought. Apparently, 5 years later, the EPA noticed that the EPA-certified test lab incorrectly added a 10% buffer, which is allowed for hydronic heaters (outdoor wood boilers), but the EPA and EPA-certified test lab weren’t on the same page for forced air furnace testing, reflecting the confusion with the entire process.
The only effect this 10% buffer had was putting our Category 3 burn (one out of the total 4 burns) over an arbitrarily established Category 3 limit by 1% while having no impact on the emissions created during the burn (which is the whole point of the EPA regulations, right??). Category 3 is actually the easiest category to achieve. The kicker is that if the lab had used the correct BTU total (we relied on the EPA-certified testing lab Intertek to provide accurate information), they would’ve adjusted the computer slightly downward to achieve a passing Category 3 burn simply by turning the adjustment knob (low – high). Think of our computer control as the foot pedal on your car and how easy it is to change from 60 mph to 50 mph. Our furnace is different than others because our computer controls the combustion, so this should be factored in when testing (you don’t test an electric car the same as a gas one – but it’s a rabbit hole). This is why our furnace works so great during real-world applications because it helps eliminate human error. It doesn’t allow for smoldering of the wood, which results in pollution and greater chances of chimney fires.
5 years later, the EPA decided this was unacceptable. Presenting us with the best-case scenario of spending tens of thousands of dollars by telling us we have to retest not only the Category 3 (less than 1% off) but also the most challenging Category 1. While losing hundreds of thousands of dollars each month, it takes to resolve the issues. All at Lamppa’s expense. Was our Category 1 incorrect on the test? No, it was below the .15 limit allowed. However, the EPA won’t grant waivers (Category 3) even if the burn was close. Well, then, when would they grant waivers? (feels punitive)
According to the EPA website (updated in June this past summer and not communicated with manufacturers “That’s not on us to communicate with manufacturers”), they won’t grant waivers if the certification test reports at or above .14 lbs. It’s crazy that they start moving the goalposts after the fact, especially with a complete lack of correspondence with manufacturers! This should have no bearing on us because our test report is the cleanest ever tested at .093. However, after bringing this to their attention, of course, they say that each burn needs to be below .14 and that manufacturers should expect to retest every time their certification expires.
Will they allow us to sell and ship new orders (after Sep 1st, 2022) while this plays out? No. We’ve scaled to the size where we can’t afford to lose furnace revenue without being forced to shut down—putting our company out of business and leaving our employees unemployed.
So 5 years after the fact, the EPA is willing to bankrupt a small multi-generational family business that focused on burning wood cleanly long before the EPA got involved with regulating consumer wood burning. All of this is over an EPA-certified testing lab technician making a mistake resulting in one burn exceeding the BTU allotment by 1% while still burning the cleanest they have ever tested. Where is common sense? If there ever was a time when a waiver to avoid this was reasonable, this is it! We are constantly hearing from both political parties about eliminating Red Tape, especially when it comes to election season, and it’s hard to find a better example of that than here.
***The purpose of EPA’s NSPS Phase 1 and Phase 2 emissions standards is to ensure that wood-burning furnaces are burning clean to benefit the environment.***
The points being discussed by the EPA regarding Lamppa Manufacturing do not have any impact on the cleanliness of the furnace burn but are based on a mistake by the EPA-certified test lab.
The lab set the control slightly high; thus, the furnace produced 1% more than they wanted for this Category 3 burn. They conducted the test and called to say it passed burning smokeless and no further tests were needed.
Because of this error made outside the control of Lamppa Manufacturing, the EPA is choosing to withhold the certificate of compliance for Lamppa Manufacturing.
Are the IRRRB (Iron Range Resources and Rehabilitation Board) and our local politicians using millions of taxpayer dollars, Lamppa Manufacturing using all of their personal savings and over 40 years of work, and the City of Tower, losing a robust job-creating business, going to sit back and allow a lab technicians mistake and an unreasonable Federal EPA department bury a company in red ink for “NO” fault of their own? All we did was design the cleanest and most efficient woodburning furnace in the World! (Please see all reference material)