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Monday, December 29, 2008

Scaled Down Wood Burning Ban and Restrictions Before Council Next Week

Back in July, the Davis City Council voted unanimously to support a wood burning ban and send the matter to the Natural Resources Commission to write an ordinance. Even at that point of time, while supportive of the concept of banning wood burning stoves, it was clear that council was well ahead of the public on this issue.

Specifically I worried that the public did not even know this was coming down for the most part until the council had already discussed the issue. In the subsequent weeks and months, as the public has become aware of the issue, the public has turned against the idea of banning wood burning stoves.

Back on August 27, nearly a month after the council voted unanimously to move forward with a resolution, I wrote in the Vanguard:
On July 29, 2008, the Davis City Council unanimously voted to recommend to the Natural Resources Commission to draft a resolution that would implement a full ban on wood burning in Davis with an exemption for hardship.

I will say at the onset here, that I am fully in support of that decision, particularly with such an exemption for people of lower income backgrounds who rely on wood burning as a cheaper means by which to heat their homes in the winter.

However, at the time I was concerned about the way in which this issue had been dealt with by the city, the city council, and the local paper--or that is, not dealt. I got up to speak before city council on the night of July 29, 2008, to recommend two things. First, that we need exemptions for people with hardships. And second, that we needed better outreach before this meeting.

On the morning of July 29, I wrote this article in the Vanguard
. It essentially lays out my position on the technical aspects of this issue. But I believe that for many in this community, they did not know this issue was even under consideration until that article appeared the Vanguard and subsequently an article in the Davis Enterprise on July 31, 2008.
As a result, the Natural Resources Commission has made an alternative set of recommendations from staff recommendations. Both sets of recommendations significantly scale back the original council action approved on July 29, 2008.

The staff report is roughly 25 pages, thus this summary will not do it justice.

However, staff does make five recommendations that if the council approves them, an ordinance would be brought back well before November 2009 which would constitute the beginning of the next burn season.

Staff recommendations:
a) Work with Dr. Cahill and the YSAQMD to establish monitoring to gather specific air quality information, to be used in assessing what further restrictions may be in order;

b) Adopt the following wood burning restrictions: Establish burn/no burn days based on Federal air quality standard of PM2.5 of 35 ug/m3 and apply the same criteria to open hearth and non-certified appliances. Restrictions do not include the eventual ban on open hearth an non-certified appliances. Further restrictions will be revisited once air quality data is collected and analyzed.

c) Work more closely with the YSAQMD to disseminate all manner of information on the wood burning, i.e., health effects, proper burning techniques, etc;

d) Pursue programs that would encourage the change out of old appliances and the conversion of open hearth. This can be done through promotion of YSAQMD’s Woodstove Change Out Program and pursuing funds to increase the grant amount to further encourage change outs;

e) Pursue viability of using resale requirements that may reduce the number of open hearths and non-certified appliances.
Natural Resources Commission Recommendations:
a) Wood burning will only be allowed on “Allowable Burn Days” defined as a forecasted average regional PM 2.5 of 25 ug/m3 (particulate matter) or lower and a forecasted average wind speed from 6 PM to midnight of 5 mph or greater.

b) Wood burning will be allowed a maximum of 6 hours per day per residence and only burning of seasoned dry wood is allowed.

c) Beginning March 1, 2010, wood burning is only allowed in EPA Phase II-Certified wood and pellet stoves and prohibited in fire places or non-EPA certified appliances.

d) A one time permit is required (for law enforcement and educational purposes). Permit issuance would start March 1, 2010.

e) This proposed ordinance does not pertain to any appliances fueled by natural gas or propane and/or designed and exclusively used for cooking purposes.

f) Exemptions are allowed for temporary breakdowns of other heat sources and power outages.
The major difference between two the recommendations is that Staff's recommendation focus on burn restrictions and contains no bans at this time. The NRC bans open hearth and other non-certified appliances but allows EPA Phase 2 certified appliances.

Staff report explains that they have followed Dr. Cahill's approach:
"At the October NRC meeting, Dr. Cahill, a former professor in the UC system and local expert on global climate change, offered to work with the city to gather air quality information. Staff supports Dr. Cahill’s measured approach of gathering specific information that will aide in assessing the air quality and the nature of future action. This would be accomplished through a donation of monitoring equipment and Dr. Cahill’s expertise and time to evaluate data. Staff has met with Dr. Cahill and a monitoring station has been set up."
The staff report does not know what the fiscal impact of this approach will be.

The enforcement issue has been a concern. The idea that the police would have to become the enforcers seems a waste of police resources among other related problems. The NRC draft ordinance includes enforcement as a response to those who burn illegally, staff seems uncomfortable with the notion however.
"While it is simple to suggest that the Police Department enforce the ordinance, the nuances of actually doing so are quite complex. There are several elements that make the draft ordinance difficult to enforce."
The staff report continues:
1. Because of the inherent difficulties of monitoring actual burning time, the 6 hour
maximum burn time is not enforceable.

2. Enforcement is complicated when various appliances are treated differently. Police officers would be required to distinguish between open hearth, non-EPA certified wood burning stoves and inserts and EPA Phase II certified stoves and inserts. Some of this concern is relieved if permits are issued.

3. Police officers would be required to distinguish between seasoned dry wood and unseasoned or wet wood.

4. And lastly, this type of call could be triaged and be a very low priority. It is difficult to estimate what percentage of calls the Police Department would be able to respond to.
This actually only gets to the tip of the iceberg. Quite simply enforcement would have to be treated specially. Because different devices, different woods, and burning time periods are involved, it would make the police's job very difficult. This is not a like a noise ordinance or a smoking ordinance that would be fairly straight forward to enforce. The city probably does not have the resources to deal with the enforcement and frankly this is not what the police should be doing either. This section needs considerable thought and attention--while I might in general favor the NRC approach, it would be very difficult to enforce which might make the staff approach more feasible.

Finally the issue of burn/ no burn criteria is discussed.

Staff's assessment of the NRC recommendation:
"The criteria the NRC recommends uses an air quality threshold that is lower than the Federal standard. To our knowledge, this lower threshold has not been used in any other burn restricting ordinances. The NRC recommendation further adds an additional factor of wind speed which is also unprecedented."
Staff on the other hand:
"Staff believes a more measured approach and collection of air quality data will assist with the establishment of burn/no burn criteria based on the City’s air quality. The data collected will help define the air quality challenges in the City and thus allow for the development of burn/no burn thresholds that target the city’s needs. Staff recommends starting with moderate restrictions, the Federal standard, and then stepping towards a more restrictive ordinance as may be deemed necessary by the results of the data collection."
It is helpful that the staff report includes a chart to show the impact of each regulation:

The bottom line here is that staff's approach is probably the least preferred alternative at this point. The impact to people who have allergies and asthma of wood burning is immeasurable. It is probably a larger percentage of the population than the percentage that makes frequent use of wood burning.

However, what happened was the initial wood burning ban got too far ahead of the public on this issue and there has been considerable blowback over the last four or five months. The result was the need for a more scaled-back approach. Wood burning bans in short need to be slowly phased in and the public needs to be educated on the health hazards involved. That certainly had not occurred in July, which is why we expressed concern at that point in time that the issue had not been properly vetted.

From our perspective, the NRC approach is the better approach than the staff report. It contains the goal of phasing out and banning non-EPA approved devices and has a more stringent measure for no burn days.

However, even with this more scaled back approach, there remains the concern that because it is multifaceted, it will be difficult to enforce. That is not a reason not to pass it, but it does need to be thoroughly examined.

The Vanguard understands the rationale behind the more measured approach, but fears it does not go far enough and is not aggressive enough in terms of dealing with the very real health hazards involved in wood burning.

---Doug Paul Davis reporting