By Shannon Nielsen, The Herald Journal
Utah’s air quality is a big issue, with many ideas and initiatives being introduced to reduce pollution during winter inversions. One proposal has residents in seven counties signing petitions and going to public hearings by the thousands.
The proposal is an all-out ban on wood burning from Nov. 1 to March 31 with the exception of restaurants and homes whose primary source of heat is wood burning.
Public hearings have already been conducted in Tooele and Salt Lake counties and will take place at 11:30 a.m. Tuesday at the Bear River Health Department, 991 S. 800 West in Brigham City, and 4 p.m. Wednesday at the Historic Courthouse, 199. N. Main St. in Logan.
This issue was also discussed at the Bear River Board of Health meeting earlier this week.
Lloyd Berentzen, the director of the Health Department, said he wants to make sure the public is aware of the health department’s position on the proposal.
“I’m, quite frankly, not in favor of this ordinance,” he said. “I’m not sure why it’s being pushed as hard as it is.”
There’s only one person registered in Cache County who claims wood burning as his or her primary source of heat, he said. However, there are many throughout the county that have it as a secondary source of heat. When propane, natural gas or electric heat are too expensive, families throughout the valley rely on wood burning because they can’t afford an alternative, he said.
Berentzen said he realizes, as the director of the health department, many will say he should support an ordinance that helps clean the air. He wants to make sure that the public is aware that the health department isn’t necessarily backing this proposal.
“I’m not sure this ordinance accomplishes a real cleaning of the air,” he said.
The majority of the voices on the issue are against the all-out ban, but there is a coalition that wants a compromise: Utahns for Responsible Burning.
John Mortensen, who serves as one of the leaders of the coalition and is a local dealer for EPA-certified wood-burning stoves, said technology has been developed to make stoves more efficient and environmentally friendly.
After Gov. Gary Herbert proposed the ban, he said his phone was ringing off the hook with customers who had done the research and invested in the Environmental Protection Agency certified stoves.
“They were concerned that they would not be able to burn those after they felt like they had done their part to help improve the air,” he said.
These stoves burn up to 90 percent cleaner with the technology used, Mortensen said.
With the technology, you’re getting more heat out of the stove, but it also creates dramatically fewer pollutants, he said.
“I feel like they should be exempted from this ban,” he said.
Tymon Law, owner of Chim Chimney in Logan, also sells EPA-certified stoves. Power outages and other emergency situations, he said, call for wood to be available as a source of heat. Every stove doesn’t need to be used every day, he said, adding that people need to be responsible with burning. However, there are many people who have invested in the cleaner technology who will be adversely affected by this ban if it doesn’t change.
“We’re for clean air, absolutely,” he said. “But we don’t necessarily think the ban is the best way to achieve that.”
Jack Greene, a local environmentalist, said he isn’t completely for the ban either. He does believe something needs to be done to clean up the air but agrees that EPA-certified stoves do very little in the way of polluting.
“The EPA-certified stoves burn considerably cleaner,” he said. “They contribute very little to the problem.”
Not only should those stoves be exempt, he said, but the ordinance should be a county-by-county issue, he said. Every county is different, with different people, different houses and different situations.
In Franklin County, Idaho, a program was started to help convert older stoves to the new EPA certified stoves. Utahns for Responsible Burning, along with Greene, agree that something should be done to help those who not only can’t afford another heat source but can’t afford to upgrade to new technology.
Law said it’s more than just the cost of the stove to upgrade. The pipes are significantly thinner in new stoves than with the older models, so people who upgrade their stoves have to do home modifications to accommodate the difference.
Jeff Scott, a Box Elder county commissioner, said at the Board of Health meeting that many residents in Box Elder were very upset about this proposed ban and accused the county of coming up with the idea.
“We were on the most-wanted list for proposing this legislation,” he said. “We said, ‘We’re going to be there yelling as loud as you are.’ I agree 110 percent.”
It’s not good policy to take away the right to burn at all, he added.
Mortensen noted that there are incentives for cleaner emission vehicles, and the coalition believes the same idea could be applied to wood stoves.
With views on both sides of the issue being very heated and polarized, he said people need to go to the meetings and voice opinions but be aware of all views.
“Part of the reason to do this is to have a dialogue,” he said. “Ultimately it does come down to a middle compromise.”