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Statewide View: Senate can act to preserve heating options for consumers

With the first frosts, we Minnesotans know it's time to make sure our heating systems are prepared for the long, harsh winter ahead.

Many homeowners across Minnesota, from Bemidji to Duluth to Rochester, will rely on wood stoves for heat this winter. This is particularly true in rural areas, where residents may not have access to propane or natural gas-fueled heating.

At Hearth & Home Technologies, we bring high-quality heating to homes in Minnesota and around the world. Our research and development team is constantly working to develop more efficient and cleaner-burning wood stoves. The process of bringing a single new product to market normally takes years. With 36 different models to be tested currently, we have 20-plus years' worth of product development and testing ahead of us.

EPA regulations set to take effect in 2020 are forcing stove manufacturers to compress that development and testing into just five years, however — an impossible task if manufacturers want to continue to offer the same range of premium affordable heating options.

The regulations, known as the New Source Performance Standards, came into effect May 15, 2015, with a second part coming into effect May 15, 2020. The standards require manufacturers to produce wood stoves that meet stricter standards on particulate-matter emissions.

As a Minnesotan and president of Hearth & Home Technologies, I support the new standards. Our company, which employs more than 700 people in Minnesota, is committed to producing safe, clean-burning products.

However, the deadline does not provide enough time to produce and test our company's affected products. Other manufacturers are in a similar difficult position.

Without an extension of the effective date of the 2020 standards, consumers will see fewer heating choices and higher prices. Consumers who want to replace older, less-efficient, dirtier stoves with newer models may not find new stoves in their price range. Retailers could suffer, too, as the deadline may leave them with a huge stock of unsellable products that do not meet the new standards.

With more time, manufacturers would be able to design cleaner, more-efficient stoves and provide more options in different price ranges.

Fortunately, the U.S. House of Representatives already has voted in favor of legislation to extend the deadline. The Senate now needs to act by passing S. 1857, which will give manufacturers time to produce the safe, affordable, efficient heating options that are the goal of the regulations.

I commend Sen. Amy Klobuchar for her support in cosponsoring S. 1857. I urge Sen. Tina Smith to cosponsor the legislation and to help us produce products to keep Minnesotans warm, and their air cleaner, for many winters to come.

V.P. (Vincent Paul) Berger is president of Hearth & Home Technologies, the largest hearth-products manufacturer in the world, headquartered in Lakeville, Minn.