Comment period open for Utah proposed seasonal wood burn ban

By Katie Fletcher | January 14, 2015

The Utah Department of Environmental Quality opened a 40-day comment period on Jan. 1 for a proposed seasonal wood burn ban amendment R307-302, which would prohibit seven counties from solid-fuel burning in all solid-fuel burning devices from Nov. 1 to March 15, beginning this November. Banned solid-fuel burning devices include fireplaces, as well as stoves and boilers used for burning wood, coal, pellets or any other nongaseous and non-liquid fuel, both indoors and outdoors. This ban applies to EPA-certified devices, but excludes outdoor wood boilers regulated under R307-208.

Households where these devices serve as the sole source of heat, and are registered with the Division of Air Quality, are exempt from the ban. Currently, around 30 to 40 households are on the registry, and the DAQ is opening the sole-source registry again from Feb. 2 to June 1 to allow additional households to register their solid burning devices if it serves as the homes sole source of heat. The legislature has provided $500,000 for conversion to encourage voluntary participation of sole source households on the registry.

Additionally, some low-income residents can utilize the Utah Home Energy Assistance Training program to help with energy costs during the winter months.

Beyond sole-source households, other sources exempt from the ban that use solid fuels include commercial, industrial and institutional food preparation facilities. There is also the possibility that the Utah DEQ director may use enforcement discretion during an emergency condition such as a power outage.

The proposed ban would impact areas of the state that are in nonattainment for the 24-hour standard for fine particulates. Right now the Wasatch Front and Cache Valley are considered non-attainment areas in the state for the particulate matter (PM) 2.5 National Ambient Air Quality Standard, and research done at the University of Utah suggests pollution from wood smoke is causing this during temperature inversions. Inversions form when a dense layer of cold air gets trapped under a layer of warm air. All of the pollutants are trapped with the cold air near the valley floor, because the surrounding mountains act like a bowl keeping the cold air and its pollutants in the valleys.

Governor Gary Herbert asked the Air Quality Board to explore the option of a seasonal ban to improve wintertime air quality. “Our modeling, and the memo we sent to the board, has shown that if we got 100 percent compliance with the ban we would see a 2 micro gram improvement, which would be significant,” said Mark Berger, rules coordinator with the Utah DEQ.

Areas impacted by the proposed seasonal burn ban include sections of Box Elder, Cache, Salt Lake, Davis, Tooele, Weber and Utah Counties. According to the EPA, in the seven county areas that are affected there are 21,672 EPA-certified stoves and 163,048 conventional stoves, these numbers do not include other devices such as boilers. Homes in these counties above the inversion layer, 7,000 feet, would be exempt from the ban.

The AQB is asking residents to consider and comment on three main points during the public comment period. Considerations include a single ban period applicable to all areas, a different ban period for each area if it results in the same air quality impact, and the possible exclusion of counties in which data may not support a ban. “Every day I come in and I have a couple 100 emails from people who are commenting on the proposed rule, which is the most comments we’ve ever received for just a rule amendment,” Berger said. “It’s been encouraging to see people involved in the public comment process. There is quite a bit of pushback, but there is a lot of support too.”

Public hearings will be held in Salt Lake, Provo, Davis County, Ogden, Logan, Tooele and Brigham City starting today to give the public the opportunity to provide oral comments for the public record.

For more information on the proposal and/or submit a comment visit the DEQ website.