TOWER— Beginning late last year, Sen. Amy Klobuchar offered critical help from a distance as Lamppa Manufacturing faced a financial crisis stemming from bureaucratic incompetence and …
TOWER— Beginning late last year, Sen. Amy Klobuchar offered critical help from a distance as Lamppa Manufacturing faced a financial crisis stemming from bureaucratic incompetence and intransigence surrounding the Environmental Protection Agency’s wood furnace emissions testing program. On Wednesday, the senator got to see the Tower-based company’s operations firsthand, with a factory-wide tour that included a chance to light one of the company’s newest sauna stoves. She also visited with several employees at the plant, asking questions about the various aspects of production, finishing, and shipping of the company’s sauna stoves and wood furnaces.
For Klobuchar, the visit was all part of her ongoing effort to show support for rural small business, particularly small manufacturers, which can face a variety of challenges, such as limited access to capital for growth. It was also a chance to see the progress the company has made since it passed emissions testing for a second time now, and is once again certified to sell its Kuuma Vapor Fire wood furnaces. It’s a development that was particularly satisfying for Sen. Klobuchar.
For Lamppa Manufacturing, having a U.S. Senator in their corner made all the difference in their months-long battle with the EPA over the renewal of their emissions certification. “She was really the point person,” said Garrett Lamppa, who has taken over operations of the company from his father Daryl. Garrett led the senator through the plant, telling the story of the transition of the company from a tiny homegrown operation to a modern manufacturer that is now shipping product around the world.
Lamppa said that Klobuchar was remarkably responsive to the concerns the company raised, both about the validity of the EPA’s test methods as well as the agency’s lack of concern for the financial burden they were placing on the small company. “She called me personally on the weekends more than once,” recalls Lamppa.
While the EPA had certified Lamppa’s Kuuma Vapor Fire 100 wood furnace in 2017, the agency suspended the certification when its five-year term ended in September 2022. When the company applied for renewal last summer, agency officials forced them to go through the lengthy and expensive testing process once again, even as the qualified test labs had little training or understanding of the EPA’s test criteria. Rather than allow the company to sell its furnaces based on the expired certification, as is often allowed of bigger corporations, the federal agency shut down Lamppa Manufacturing’s sales of its wood furnace just as orders for the 2022 heating season were starting to come in. The decision was nearly fatal to the company.
Garrett Lamppa had reached out to local legislators in the wake of the EPA decision, but they all told him the same thing: “We need to get Amy involved.” He said Ida Rukavina, a former Klobuchar staffer who now serves as IRRR Commissioner, had put him in touch with the senator, and Klobuchar took it from there, taking on much of the work personally, rather than leaving it to staff. “She met personally with the higher ups at EPA on this,” recalls Lamppa.
After all the problems with the EPA’s testing program, Klobuchar laughed when Garrett noted that the federal agency recently reached out to the company to buy two of its wood furnaces to help set the standards for their revised testing program. Klobuchar said that’s good for Lamppa. “The big companies do that all the time,” she said. “They get the standards set based on their product and everyone else is in trouble.”
While Lamppa Manufacturing has faced some headwinds of its own, the company’s path forward looks promising and Klobuchar was eager to hear about it. She’s not the first high-ranking politician to visit the plant in recent months. Gov. Tim Walz had his own tour of the facility back in April.
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