Some Tooele County residents who attended the state’s first public hearing on the matter say the state’s Air Quality Board can go ahead and pass its proposed woodburning ban. They’ll keep burning anyway.
“So we’re going to lose if we burn. I say burn anyway,” said Pine Canyon resident Gordon Beals during Wednesday’s public hearing.
“You guys need to go back to Salt Lake,” he told representatives of the Air Quality Board. “I say burn, burn, burn.”
Wednesday’s hearing, which took place at the Tooele County Health Department, was the first in a series of seven public hearings the state Air Quality Board and Division of Air Quality is hosting across the Wasatch Front.
The hearings are to gather opinions on a proposed seasonal woodburning ban in the state’s nonattainment areas, one of which includes populous portions of Tooele Valley.
Under the proposed ban, all residents and commercial, industrial and institutional facilities will be barred from burning any solid source of fuel, such as wood or coal, in any device, including stoves, fireplaces and firepits, from November to March of each year.
But the proposal was not popular with the roughly 120 citizens from Tooele County and other areas on the Wasatch Front who turned out for Wednesday afternoon’s hearing.
Due to an unexpected large turnout, the hearing was moved from a conference room to the health department’s main auditorium. The hearing began with representatives from the Division of Air Quality who said the ban is needed because of emissions generated by solid fuel-burning devices.
Woodburning not only releases PM 2.5 — the microscopic particles responsible for Utah’s characteristic winter smog — but also chemicals such as volatile organic compounds, explained Joel Karmazyn, an environmental scientist with the Division of Air Quality. When volatile organic compounds and other chemicals get trapped beneath an inversion layer, they react with sunlight and form PM 2.5.
Karmazyn said this latter kind of PM 2.5, which forms in the air, is the primary source of particulate pollution in northern Utah that regularly exceeds federal health standards.
Based on EPA estimates, Karmazyn said there are roughly 556 EPA-certified stoves and roughly 4,202 uncertified stoves in Tooele County. Those numbers produce some 82.6 tons of pollution per year, he said.
But members of the audience disagreed with the ban’s necessity, and all who stood to speak voiced opposition. Many accused the state of governmental overreach.
“I don’t even have an inversion where I live, and you want me to stop using my stove?” William Hogan, a South Rim resident, asked incredulously.
“It seems to me that we’re shooting a fly with a shotgun,” agreed Erda resident Chad Allred. “A wood ban is not going to curtail the problem in this valley.”
Other residents said the ban is a violation of the U.S. and Utah constitutions, citing rules that require governments to refund citizens for the lost use of personal property.
One South Rim resident came with a financial loss estimate he expected to accrue if the ban passed — $3,000 for the value of his wood stove, and $2,000 a year for his increased utility bills.
“I expect to be compensated $3,000 initially and $2,000 annually if this ban goes through,” he said. “Just let me know where to sign up to get the check.”
Members of the hearing’s large audience generally remained civil throughout the nearly 2-hour-long meeting, but the atmosphere was not without energy. Members of the audience whistled, hooted, pounded tables and stomped their feet in response to comments that opposed the ban.
When a few speakers ran out of the two minutes they were allocated to speak and were consequently asked to be seated, the audience often overruled Air Quality Board representatives with shouts, jeers and impromptu motions to allow the speakers more time.
Many who spoke chose to lighten their comments with a joke — a move met with much applause.
“I feel like I’m at a 12-step program and now can tell you: I burn coal,” one Rush Valley resident said.
Others were more serious, taking the opportunity to call out the Air Quality Board for proposing a rule they said was out of touch with reality for many rural Utah residents and would be impossible to attain.
“This is a denial of the reality,” said Tooele resident Greg Briggs, a transplant originally from Arizona. “The reality is you live in a mountain valley where you’re going to get a natural inversion, and pollutants are going to get in it. It’s like the people who came to Phoenix to complain about the heat and the water shortage. You might as well propose a tornado-free zone in Kansas.”
While most who spoke were county residents, others traveled from across the Wasatch Front to make their opinions heard. Some said they chose to attend the Tooele meeting because they were unable to attend the meetings located in their own communities.
“I’m really all for air control, but an all-out ban is ludicrous,” said Steve Pohlman, a Holladay resident. Pohlman complained that the ban indicated the Division of Air Quality had made little effort to find a compromise.
“I feel very strongly that we can breathe clean air, but we can also use our stoves responsibly,” said John Mortensen, a Salt Lake City resident and founding member of Utahns for Responsible Burning, a citizen coalition that formed last week.
The group had a demonstration running outside in the parking lot during the hearing and argued in favor of an exemption for EPA-certified woodburning devices. The demonstration included two woodburning stoves operating from the back of a flatbed truck.
While no government or elected officials attended the hearing, the Tooele County Health Department later issued a statement of opposition to the ban.
“The Tooele County Health Department does not support the Utah Department of Environmental Quality’s proposed seasonal wood burn ban,” said Amy Bate, public information officer for the health department, in an email. “TCHD thinks the current voluntary and mandatory no-burn days utilized as air quality approaches unhealthy levels, best meets the needs and conditions of Tooele County.”
For residents who missed Wednesday’s hearing and are unable to attend the other six meetings scheduled by the Division of Air Quality, the division is also accepting written comments on the suggested ban.
Comments may be submitted to Public Comment at the Utah Division of Air Quality, P.O. Box 144820, Salt Lake City, UT 84114-4820 or via email at firstname.lastname@example.org. Comments will be accepted through Feb. 9.