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Tuesday, July 29, 2008

Wood Fireplaces and Stoves: A Burning Issue At Tonight's Council Meeting

Wood burning fireplaces and wood stoves is probably about the last thing you expected to read about in the middle of a hot July day. However, experts are increasingly concerned about the impact of wood smoke on the level of particulate matter in the area during the winter. According to a chart provided by the city of Davis staff report, the city of Davis appears to be right on the board between needing a mandatory solid fuel burning curtailment and the requirement of building new cleaner burning devices.

In 2004, the Yolo Solano Air Quality Management District passed a rule to prohibit the installation of new non-certified fireplaces or wood stoves. But as we will see shortly, that rule helps, but does not alleviate the problem. According to the staff report, the rules set forth meet federal standards but not state guidelines.

The Davis City Council in January of this year asked the Natural Resources Commission to review this issue of wood burning restriction and to make recommendations to council. They made two recommendations. First, eventual complete wood burning prohibition. Second, "until the date certain for complete prohibition, initiate a permitting system for open hearth and EPA appliances that enables burning on days with certain meteorological conditions, based on wind speed."

The city staff however is not recommending the council follow the advise of the NRC.
"For the City to establish a new program by October 2008 is ambitious at best. The infrastructure for forecasting wind conditions, permitting, advertising and enforcement would all have to be constructed between now and October. Granted, some of the framework for education is there, but not the material and specifics for this program."
"Staff is recommending that the City fully participate in the YSAQMD voluntary no burn programs. This could involve posting information on the City web page, including the information in City publications and any other action that would get the word out to educate the public on the adverse effects of wood smoke. The goal is to inform the citizenry of the hazards of wood burning.

Spend the next season working with the air district on developing/reviewing additional programs that would address the wood smoke air pollution. It seems that since the YSAQMD is at times, out of compliance on State PM levels, this may be starting place for a more stringent level for future restrictions. In addition to the public education efforts noted above, any large scale restrictions or bans on wood burning would require substantial public outreach and engagement."
A group called Yolo Clean Air is not happy with staff's recommendation. In a letter to the Davis City Council dated July 28, 2008, Alan Pryor writes:
"Staff’s comments seem to be completely and diametrically opposed to the NRC recommendations in that the NRC unanimously voted to recommend "'wood-burning appliances should be eliminated as completely as possible as soon as possible” while staff is recommending that "the City fully participate in the YSAQMD voluntary no burn programs. “…and…”Spend the next season working with the air district on developing/reviewing additional programs”. Quite honestly, this is exactly where the process bogged down three years at the NRC. Nothing was accomplished then as a result and nothing will be accomplished by the current round of studies if staff'’s comments are accepted and implemented."
He continues:
"It would seem by staff’'s comments that the biggest objections of staff to the NRC recommendations as proposed have to do with the amount of time staff feels they would have to spend implementing the ordinance."
Mr. Pryor looks for a compromise solution to bridge the gap between the action he deems necessary and the city staff's recommendation.
"As such, we have proposed what we believe is a very fair compromise that virtually removes all work required by the city staff including the provision for licensing or permitting. In our compromise, we have also suggested a much more gradual phase-out of EPA Phase II wood stoves as long as restrictions on when they can be safely used are included. This is in recognition of the fact that some folks have just purchased EPA Phase II wood stoves in good faith that they were doing the right thing (even though doing the right thing would have meant installing a natural gas-fueled stove or insert instead). However, we are sympathetic to their concerns and we believe our new compromise before the Council is reflective of that."
When I first heard about the possibility of banning wood burning stoves, I was rather outraged at the notion. After all, walking through a town during a cold winter day, it is rather a cozy to walk around and see the fireplaces going and smell the burning wood. That's of course if you do not have allergies. But then you look at the levels of particulate matter produced by wood burning stoves and the possible health impacts and it paints a very different picture.

Source: Yolo Clean Air

The issue came up during the campaign at the Sierra Club candidate's forum. That gives us insight into three of the council members views.

Sue Greenwald simply said:
"I am in favor of looking into an ordinance for banning wood burning."
Don Saylor gave a long-winded answer that read remarkably like the staff report. The synopsis of his answer was this:
"While I want to withhold judgment until hearing from the NRC, I think we will probably see a combination of further restrictions on burning using specific appliances, incentives and rebates for purchases of cleaner EPA appliances, and more awareness of the issues pertaining to wood burning and the environmental effects."
It will be interesting to see how he reacts to the NRC recommendation that differs from staff's recommendation.

Finally Stephen Souza probably gives a somewhat less committed answer than even Councilmember Saylor.
"There are already restrictions in place on new construction and new installation of fireplaces or wood burning appliances. The Yolo-Solano Air Quality Management District's Rule 2.40 requires the use of pellet fueled heater or EPA certified heaters. We should also require that at the time of sale, remodel or a certain date that all fireplaces that do not meet Rule 2.40 be replaced or rendered inoperable.

We can also promote a self-imposed program of “Don’t Light Tonight” whereby residents do not use their fireplaces or woodstoves when air pollution is approaching unhealthy conditions."
It will be interesting to see what happens, though it seems likely given the stated positions of the three candidates that won election, that the staff recommendation will win out.

I will be very interested to see if this issue has resonance for the readers of the Vanguard. As I said, it seemed a bit nebulous for me until I saw the data.

---Doug Paul Davis reporting