Monday, March 2, 2015

Utah bill HB 396: A Hastily Crafted Bill that Misses the Mark

Winter inversions, caused mainly by cars
and trucks, often obscure the Utah legislature
in a cloud of pollution that can last days.
A bill was just introduced in the Utah House of Representatives that would mandate certain types of change out programs, set air quality levels that can be used to call no burn days and otherwise undermine the ability of the state to help move toward cleaner burning and cleaner air.

(March 4 update: The bill passed 9-4 in the House committtee. April 1 update: Governor Herbert signed the bill.)

The key to reducing wood smoke in Utah's populated and often polluted valley surrounding Salt Lake City is a genuine partnership between the states air quality division, industry and other non-profits and stakeholders.  Ultimately, solutions are going to require funding, especially if a change out program is involved, which can be expensive.  For any significant amount of money to be used for change outs, the Utah governor and air quality division should support the change out, not have HB 396 thrust upon them, which will tie their hands.

Utah Governor Herbert's proposed seasonal ban was ill conceived and drawn up without sufficient consultation.  HB 396 was similarly drawn up without sufficient consultation and will not lead to genuine solutions that can get solid funding.

Like most others, the Alliance did not support the seasonal ban proposed by the Governor, but HB 396 is not the solution.  HB 396 was drafted by key stove industry members and reflects the interests of some stove retailers and manufacturers, but does not embrace many solutions which can benefit homeowners who heat with wood and pellets.

There are a variety of proven ways to reduce wood smoke while protecting the rights of families who heat with wood and pellets.  HB 396 only refers to several strategies and it ties the hands of the Division of Air Quality, without even providing funding for solutions.  Wood stove change out programs are one of the effective strategies, but HB 396 does not include many options and best practices that other jurisdictions use in change outs to support high efficiency wood and pellet heating while reducing emissions at the same time.

This hastily crafted bill needs to emphasize the interests of all Utahans, more than the just retailers and stove manufacturers who drafted the bill.  Lines 28 and 29 which require consultation with representatives of the solid fuel burning industry while not mentioning representatives of other concerned groups is unfortunate.  The solid fuel burning industry does not represent the consumers who use their products any more than any other industry group represents consumers of their products.  For instance, one of the most important reasons people heat with wood and pellets is to save money, particularly lower income families.  However, the solid fuel burning industry refuses to release the efficiencies of the stoves they sell.  Some pellet stoves are between 40 – 50% efficient and some are between 70 – 80% efficient, but industry has long stonewalled consumer interests to know which stoves are more efficient than others. 

Industry has also actively opposed change out and incentive programs which require the disclosure of efficiency or only make the cleanest stoves eligible for replacing older, uncertified stoves.  Such options and programs, however, benefit consumers and should be considered in any change out program.

Ultimately the solution in Utah, like in any jurisdiction, requires the active engagement of all stakeholders and the consideration of all solutions – and funding.   If industry, DAQ, and other stakeholders can agree on the parameters of a change out program, it will be far easier to secure funding each year and for that funding to have the most impact.  HB 396 will not achieve that and pits the solid fuel industry against the interests of many other key stakeholders.

For these reasons, we urge the Legislature to vote against HB 396.

Over the last 4 years, the Alliance for Green Heat has also advocated on behalf of families who heat with wood and pellets with members of the Utah legislature, the Utah Division of Air Quality and the Utah Air Quality Board.  We provide expert background on wood heating technology, wood smoke emissions, and analysis.

On the current debate in Utah, we issued three short papers to help policymakers and the public better understand the importance of wood and pellet heating and options to improve air quality:

On February 24, we provided an informal briefing at the Utah Division of Air Quality (DAQ) on options for reducing wood smoke that other jurisdictions are pursuing, none of which include a ban on stove use.  That powerpoint can be downloaded here


  1. The seasonal wood ban proposal was a conversation opener. DAQ staff & the AQB are much more aware of the complexity of regulating wood burning in Utah as a result. As hearing officer at 3 of the 7 hearings, I have a much deeper understanding of the issue after comment, and the public has had an exercise in democracy.
    The hearings against the seasonal ban were very well attended by unhappy wood burners, well informed by the Hearth, Patio & Barbecue Association. HB 396 contains the list of requests that HPBA has been asking for in communications with DAQ and the public.
    Legislative mandates at this time will cripple the conversation as we work to find the best balance between the serious effects of wood smoke on our airshed & health, and rules that have broad public buy-in, based on Utah's needs. Our Legislature should allow the existing mechanisms to proceed without legislatively mandated solutions.

  2. The key to reducing wood smoke is to stop burning wood.

  3. The key to pollution control is to approach the largest providers of pollution verses attacking the smaller providers. The state opens the speed limit up throughout the state pumping much more pollution than wood burning does. The state and other governments vehicle pool should have been CNG years ago. This has been proven to be less expensive and definitely creates less pollution. The industries, refineries, and incinerators etc provide much more pollution than wood burning, yet the attention and energy has been directed at the woodburning. If the State of Utah would have been more honest throughout the years and stop looking at pocket books and bank accounts of officials, industries, and the government verses the real Clean Air the citizens would listen to the government. There are many things that can be done, however, the government is using the " do as I say verses what I am doing" approach of governing.