GORHAM, Maine — The federal government is proposing new emission standards for wood-burning stoves that some in the industry say will increase the cost of stoves for consumers and discourage people from investing in new, cleaner burning stoves — an effect contrary to the government’s intended goal.

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency has drafted new performance standards for residential wood stoves that it, along with proponents of the new rules like the American Lung Association, believe will introduce new, more efficient and cleaner burning stoves to the marketplace.

Bret Watson believes the opposite will be true.

Watson is president of Jotul North America, a wood stove manufacturer founded in Maine in 1980. Its 70 employees manufacture hundreds of cast-iron stoves each year at its facility in Gorham, where it has been located since 2005. Jotul’s stoves already far exceed the current emission standards, which were established by the EPA in 1988, Watson said.

Watson estimates it will cost the company $1 million to re-engineer its product lines and update its testing capabilities to meet the new standard, which because of variability in stove testing he thinks will result in a “statistically insignificant” change in the emissions compared to Jotul’s current stoves.

That cost will be passed onto stove dealers and consumers, resulting in prices for new Jotul stoves to increase by as much as 25 percent, or an additional $300-$500 per stove depending on the model, Watson estimates. Based on this economy and his understanding of supply and demand, he said he’d expect to see his sales fall as a result. Overall, there were roughly 4,500 wood stoves sold in Maine in 2012, according to industry figures cited by Watson.

“When you’re a manufacturer, to cough up $1 million and increase the cost of your stoves’ retail prices by 25 percent — that payback is going to be really tough to digest if sales of wood stoves go down because of that increased cost,” he told the Bangor Daily News on Friday.

That will end up having the opposite effect of what the EPA wants, which is more people to adopt new, cleaner-burning stoves.

Watson is not against clean burning stoves. Jotul spent $200,000 last year on its own program to encourage people to trade in their old stoves for newer, more efficient stoves. The company changed out 1,400 stoves and wrote a check for $14,000 to the American Lung Association.

Mark Higgins, co-owner of EverGreen Home & Hearth, a wood-stove dealer with locations in Ellsworth and Brewer, said the manufacturers of the stoves he carries, including Jotul, are continually making their products more efficient and cleaner, not because the EPA is breathing down their neck, but because they are competing with other manufactures to provide stoves that consumers want.

Higgins said he thinks the new rules could hurt sales.

“There is certainly a portion of customers that $500 may not be a huge deal, but there is big percentage of customers that it is,” he said. “Three hundred, $400, $500 is a huge deal for a lot of households in Maine.”

If the EPA and the American Lung Association really wanted to address the public health hazards posed by wood stoves, Watson and Higgins both said they should put all their energy and resources toward encouraging people to trade in the millions of old, inefficient and dirty stoves for current, more efficient models — not attempting to mandate new emission standards that only address the 75,000 new stoves that are purchased in the United States each year.

“Until you address the 6 million dirty burning stoves in circulation, it doesn’t matter if you go to 0.0 grams per hour,” Watson said, referring to the emission standards for the amount of particulate matter stoves emit per hour. “You’re only adding cost and complexity to units, which is going to impact sales. So why kill the wood stove industry if it’s not going to address user habits on old stoves?”

Janice Nolen, assistant vice president for national policy at the American Lung Association, disagrees with Watson’s and Higgins’ assessment.

Nolen said it’s not a matter of doing one over the other. Requiring newer, cleaner stoves and encouraging the retirement of old stoves are both important avenues to pursue, she said, though the federal government and ALA don’t have the resources to implement the latter.

The EPA is holding a public hearing on the new draft rules in Boston on Feb. 26. Watson, along with Jotul’s head of research and development, will attend and testify in opposition to the new rules.

Also planning to attend is Patricia Aho, commissioner of the Maine Department of Environmental Protection. She will also oppose the new draft rules.

In a statement provided to the BDN, Aho said that while Maine supports legislation that results in more efficient and environmentally beneficial wood-burning stoves, this “substantial and far-reaching rule” goes too far and would prove “harmful” for Maine residents, its forest products industry and stove manufacturers and dealers.

“The draft rule would not fulfill its purpose to reduce the amount of harmful wood smoke in the air — and in fact, would do just the opposite, making it prohibitively expensive for homeowners to purchase a new, more efficient stove,” Aho said in the statement. “Maine is advocating for reasonableness and flexibility in this regulation such that newer, cleaner wood stoves are a benefit to Maine citizens with no compromise to heating ability, no increase in difficulty of operation and which are not prohibitively expensive so that actual health benefits are realized.”

Even Gov. Paul LePage weighed in to support Jotul.

“I have great concerns when Jotul, a noncatalytic wood stove manufacturer, says it would cost approximately $1 million to meet this new standard based on unreliable science,” he said in a statement provided to the BDN. “Make no mistake, this additional cost burden jeopardizes our manufacturers and ultimately will make wood stoves significantly more expensive for consumers.”

The comment period on the EPA’s new draft rules will close on May 5, 2014.

Whit Richardson

Whit Richardson is Business Editor at the Bangor Daily News. He blogs about Maine business, entrepreneurs and the economy.