By Tom Haraldsen, The Davis Clipper
State health officials will hold their sixth of seven public hearings on a proposed wood-burning ban on Wednesday, Jan. 28, at the Davis County government center.
The hearing begins at 10 a.m. at the county complex, 61 South Main St. in Farmington.
The Utah Department of Environmental Quality opened a 40-day comment period on Jan. 1 to hear from both sides of the ban, which would prohibit seven counties from solid-fuel burning from Nov. 1 to March 15, starting this fall.
But opponents of the proposed ban have created a coalition called Utahns for Responsible Burning, made up largely of commercial retailers and scientists who believe Utah citizens have the right to burn wood. They also argue that technology has made many fireplaces and wood-burning stoves much more environmentally-friendly than has been portrayed.
“We agree that air quality must improve in Utah,” said John Mortensen, a Salt Lake City dealer for EPA-certified wood burning stoves, “but Utahns should be able to both breathe cleaner air and burn wood responsibly. The two are not mutually exclusive.”
Mortensen joined John Crouch, director of public affairs for the Hearth, Patio and Barbecue Association, in visiting local news organizations to get the word out about their concerns over the proposed ban.
“People need to come to these public hearings,” Crouch said while in Bountiful last week. “There are examples of many communities here in the west that have improved their air quality by encouraging upgrades to cleaner technology. “
Their message is simple—exempt low-emission stoves and fireplace inserts from the burn ban except on mandatory no-burn days. Mandating that all such devices cannot be used for that 4-1/2 month period is “punitive to those who’ve made good decisions,” in Crouch’s words.
Under Gov. Gary Herbert’s proposed ban, solid-fuel burning devices such as fireplaces, stoves and boilers used for burning wood, coal, pellets or any other nongaseous and non-liquid fuels would be prohibited, including the EPA-certified devices.
The Division of Air Quality would exempt households where such devices serve as the only source of heat, but those households would have to be on the DAQ registry, which currently has less than 50 households listed.
DAQ is opening up that list from Feb. 2 to June 1 to allow residents to register their devices if they are the only source of heat.
Thus far, the public hearings have been heavily attended, and opponents of the ban very vocal. Beyond the issue of whether technology has served to greatly reduce pollutants or not is also the question of individual freedom—the right of those who have fireplaces or wood-burning stoves to use them, Mortensen said.
“We think the state can better meet its goals by encouraging the use of stoves certified by the Environmental Protection Agency,” he said, advocating a two stage process that the coalition explains in full on its website, UtahnsForResponsibleBurning.org.