ST. GEORGE — One of the new laws passed in March by the Utah Legislature is the “Wood Burning Amendments” bill, or House Bill 154, which created funding for public awareness campaigns about the effects of wood burning on air quality and to convert homes whose sole source of heat is wood burning in order to decrease air pollution, especially along the Wasatch Front where the inversion prevails.
Wood burning significantly impacts the quality of the air, said Utah Department of Environmental Quality Communications Director Donna Spangler. The Division of Air Quality, a subset of the DEQ, can restrict wood burning to either encourage conversion or try to reach out to those who burn in excess. The DAQ describes the effects of wood smoke on its smoke abatement Web page:
Wood smoke is extremely dirty and carries with it both particulate matter and toxic compounds that significantly worsen our air quality. Wood smoke also travels across a broad area: not only are the people living in the home with the fire impacted, but their neighbors and others are as well, as the fine particles of the wood smoke are able to penetrate inside other homes from the outside.
Although the bill passed, it did not find unanimous support in the Legislature.
It’s a pretty minor impact considering that 60 percent of pollutants come out of a tailpipe, said Sen. Evan Vickers, who voted against the bill.
“I was hesitant because I’m always real sensitive to the rural way of life,” Vickers said. “I understand the desire to change from wood to natural gas, but there are a lot of people with cabins and homes in rural areas where wood has been a main source.”
The state’s mandatory restrictions mean that people may be fined for wood burning during the time of restrictions; voluntary restrictions mean people cannot be fined but are strongly advised to not burn wood as a source of heat.
“It is a violation to use wood burning stoves on a red air day. To use a stove during that time violates state law and that code has been in effect for several years,” said the bill’s Floor Sponsor Sen. Curtis Bramble.
The term “conversion” does not, however, mean that a wood burning stove may be converted into a natural gas stove. Instead, funding would be put toward purchasing and installing a separate stove or furnace that burns clean gas. The average cost of a natural gas stove, which includes materials, labor and installation, can be anywhere from around $600 to well over $1,000.
This bill appropriated $750,000 as a one-time general fund to the department and offers opportunities for further funding needs.
Prior to the new law, according to the state’s smoke abatement Web page, five Salt Lake City area homes were selected for a test-project conversion via grant money, stating: “Just this change alone will make a big impact.” The page further refers to a University of Utah Study that found wood burning and grill cooking could be as important a source of air pollution along the Wasatch Front as gasoline emissions:
- A wood burning device can produce approximately 200 times as much pollution as a natural gas furnace per BTU created.
- One older wood burning stove pollutes as much as five dirty diesel buses.
“I think it’s a work in progress,” Rep. Don Ipson, who voted for the new law, said. “I don’t think adequate recognition has been asserted for the fact that we have much better air quality than we had 30 years ago. But as the population grows, it will get worse.”
As far as Southern Utah is concerned, Ipson said that there will never be the extent of pollution that is seen in Salt Lake City.
“I think we are good enough stewards to the earth,” Ipson said. “This is going to be the greatest place to live forever.”
On March 6, the proposed Wood Burning Amendments bill passed the House 43-28 with 4 not voting. On March 12 the bill passed the Senate with contingent amendments, 17-9 with 3 not voting. The bill as amended then received House concurrence on March 13, 48-22 with 5 not voting. It was signed by the Governor on March 31, effective May 13, amending Utah Code Sections 19-2-104 and 107, and enacting Section 19-2-107.5 known as “Wood burning.”
From Southern Utah Reps. John Westwood, Michael Noel, V. Lowry Snow and Don Ipson voted for the bill as amended by the Senate; Rep. Brad Last voted against it; and Rep. Jon Stanard did not vote on the bill as amended by the Senate but had voted against the bill on the House’s earlier third reading. Sens. David Hinkins, Steve Urquhart and Evan Vickers voted against the bill; and Sen. Ralph Okerland did not vote.
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