Mar 07 2015

Times Daily: Shelby visits Russellville Hearth facility

RUSSELLVILLE — U.S. Sen. Richard Shelby vowed to help Innovative Hearth Products fight against Environmental Protection Agency and U.S. Department of Energy regulations that company officials said would lead to job cuts.

Shelby stopped at the Russellville manufacturing facility Saturday during a multistop trip through north Alabama. He'll be in Florence on Monday to speak at the Shoals Chamber of Commerce breakfast.

At Innovative Hearth, Shelby toured the recently completed 210,000-square-foot expansion and learned about the wood burning and gas powered fireplace and heater manufacturer before being hit with the request to fight regulations coming to them from Washington.

Mike Pennington, vice president of engineering and quality for Innovative Hearth, said an EPA regulation, set to be finalized in April, regarding emission control from wood burning fireplaces, would dramatically increase the manufacturing cost and consumer price of some of Innovative Hearth's products. Pennington said, not just that, but the way the EPA wants to test for emission control from wood burning fireplaces, "probably isn't going to have that effect."

Pennington said a different issue with the Department of Energy would give the department more regulatory control of hearth products and potentially increase the types of gas-powered products regulated by the U.S. Department of Energy.

Shelby invited leaders from the industry to coordinate a meeting in Washington where he would invite EPA and energy department officials to talk with industry representatives and other elected officials about what he called unnecessary burdens placed on manufacturers.

"I'd like to introduce legislation that would put these regulations through a cost-benefit analysis," Shelby said. Shelby said regulatory agencies are "people up there looking for Utopia" that don't understand manufacturing.

He said changes are unlikely, despite Republican control of the Senate and House of Representatives in Washington, because the Obama administration "wants to tax and regulate the economy."

Russellville Mayor David Grissom said it is imperative that Innovative Hearth Products is able to grow and prosper in Russellville. The manufacturer has grown its local employment to 325 in the past year and is now one of the largest employers in the city.

Grissom said the impact is substantial.

"This is so important for the city," Grissom said. "We are already seeing the effect in terms of sales tax collections increasing. That helps every department in the city, including the schools, police and fire, and parks and rec."