SALT LAKE CITY — The first of seven public hearings to measure the appetite for a seasonal, residential wood-burning ban was attended by close to 200 people in Tooele County clearly fired up over any effort by the state to "regulate" their lives.
The crowd that packed into the Tooele County Health Department on Wednesday afternoon was unanimously, unequivocally and boisterously opposed to proposed rule out for public comment that would ban wood burning in certain areas from Nov. 1 to March 15, beginning this year.
"We are going down a slippery slope if the government does this ban without compromise," said Steve Pohlman. "Why don't they just ban all cars from driving?"
Many residents described areas where they lived in Tooele County in which natural gas is not available and wood is a cheap, renewable way for them to heat their homes.
"Wood is a renewable resource. Why the hell are we banning something that we don't have to pump out of the ground?" questioned Darrell Holden, asserting the "one-size-fits-all" approach does not work.
Chad Allred, who works in the wood stove industry, said Environmental Protection Agency-regulated devices have already reduced emissions by more than 96 percent.
"I would challenge any other industry to say they have reduced emissions by that much," Allred said. "It seems to me that we are shooting a fly with a shotgun. This is overreach on the part of government."
If the rule is passed as approved, it would be the toughest seasonal wood-burning ban in the country.
The seasonal ban would impact those areas in the state that are out of compliance for federal air quality standards for PM2.5 or fine particulate pollution. Those areas include all of Utah, Salt Lake and Davis counties, portions of Tooele, Box Elder and Weber counties and Cache Valley.
Wood smoke accounts for about 4 percent of the areas' emissions inventory, generating by EPA estimates about 876 tons of pollutants. Of that, about 34 percent is direct PM2.5 emissions, while the majority of the rest is made up of volatile organic compounds that assist in the formation of PM2.5.
William Hogan, of Rush Valley, wondered aloud at the blanket nature of the ban.
"I don't even see an inversion where I live, yet you don't want me to burn a wood stove?"
Others criticized that the proposed rule undercuts self-reliance, hurts small business and sets neighbor against neighbor.
"How is this going to be enforced? Neighbor turning in neighbor? It took me five years to buy my stove because I wanted to be part of the solution, not the problem," said Aaron Holt, a Weber County resident who said he felt so strongly about the proposal that he drove down from Roy because he will be out of town for that meeting. "I think this will affect my ability to be self-reliant."
The Utah Division of Air Quality already bans wood burning on those days when pollution begins to creep above federally set limits. On those mandatory action days, people cannot burn a solid fuel device such as a wood or wood pellet stove or a fireplace. The only exemptions apply to those who use wood burning as the only way to heat their house because of lack of other options. There are only a few dozen of those households in the state, and regulators are working to convert those to another source through financial incentives.
A newly formed group, Utahns for Responsible Burning, wants exemptions applied to residential wood burning if it is done in an EPA-certified stove, and only on those days where a "voluntary action" is requested by the state. The group would adhere to a no-burning mandate on those days pollutants are above federal clean air standards. Several representatives at that group spoke at Wednesday's hearing, pleading for some measure of compromise.
Another hearing is scheduled for 6 p.m. Thursday at the Utah Department of Environmental Quality, 195 N. 1960 West, No. 1015, Salt Lake City.
The Utah Air Quality Board put the proposed rule on the ban out for public comment in early January and is taking input until Feb. 9.
It is expected that the board will make a decision within a couple of months of when the public comment period ends.
Some Tooele County residents said regardless of the action the state takes, they will not adhere to an outright prohibition against residential wood burning.
"I will be danged if I am going to worry about a ticket from a bureaucrat when it comes to the security of my family when it is 20 degrees below zero," one man said.
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