In January, a lot of folks from the Wasatch Front attended public hearings concerning the Utah Air Quality Board’s proposal to ban the use of all wood-burning devices, old and new, next winter. When I say a lot of folks, I mean over 2,000, and probably around 95 percent of them opposed that idea.
Some people objected to any restrictions on wood burning, especially on nights when the wind is blowing and there is no inversion. Some residents, in the outlying counties, testified that their wood stoves were the key to their families’ ability to affordably heat their homes. But the most vocal folks were the many Utah residents who had installed a pellet stove or EPA-certified stove within the past few years and were astounded they were going to be treated the same as if they had not changed out their old wood stoves. In late January, the leaders of our state’s Department of Air Quality told the Legislature that the idea would be withdrawn and reworked, and a lot of people thought this was over.
The problem is that the state Air Quality Board still retains the power to put us all through this again, at any time the majority of those nine members, all appointed by the governor, feel like it. That’s why I, and a lot of other people, supported HB396, which would put a prohibition on that idea in our state’s law. Sponsored by Rep. Brad Dee, R-Ogden, and Sen. Ralph Okerlund, R-Monroe, this bill would just confirm the message that the state already heard — that a winterlong ban with no exemptions and no “green” days is a very bad idea. The idea got a lot of support in both houses and passed with no meaningful opposition. The governor has said that he wants the right program in place. This bill asks for a study to determine just that.
But now Gov. Gary Herbert is publicly suggesting he might not sign it!
I don’t get it. The hearings were not full of folks supporting the ban; they were not even split 50-50 — over 95 percent of the people who came out, including the ones who had to take off work to come to hearings in the middle of the day, said this was a bad idea.
If, like me, you want to be sure this bill gets signed, go to our website, www.utahnsforresponsibleburning.org. And send a note to the governor telling him to sign the bill. Even if you’ve been there before, he didn’t hear you, so you’ll want to send another note to him. Clearly, he’s listening to someone else, not the thousands of angry people who took the time to come to those public hearings.
Let’s have a real conversation about this issue. I hope the Department of Air Quality and the Air Quality Board were really listening at the public hearings in January.
John Mortensen is the chairman of Utahns for Responsible Burning.