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The Quality of Our Air Regulations Under Review

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The Quality of Our Air

Regulations Under Review

By Vesta Copestakes

The Bay Area Air Quality Management District has announced that they are increasing restrictions on wood burning devices in a large swath of Sonoma County. The restrictions are mostly in densely populated areas with the good intent to keep the air clean. On October 21st there will be a Public Hearing and the public has until October 19th to comment on the proposed rule.

The North Coast Regional Water Quality Control Board is getting ready to mandate upgraded septic systems along impaired water ways to improve water quality. The Air Quality Board has mandated air filters on diesel trucks and has made gestures toward mandating upgrades on wood stoves, and may even ban them outright.  For people like me and my neighbors who live in rural neighborhoods, there is an upside and downside. Wood heat is the primary source of warmth for many of us, myself included. It’s a 100% sustainable fuel…rare among fuels. Every day, tree services are trimming trees, lumber yards are milling wood for construction, and byproducts from 

these businesses go into making fuel for heat. Alternatives to wood heat are electricity, propane, natural gas & solar. The majority of rural communities do not have natural gas, and solar is often impractical because of tall trees. That leaves two very expensive heat sources: propane trucked into yard tanks, and electricity. 

The immediate reaction from wood burners to the Air Quality Board is to complain, “We can’t afford to heat our homes any other way!” Be warned - Air Quality Board has already done their studies and this is what they intend to enforce:

Regulation 6, Rule 3 Particulate Matter and Visible Emissions, regulates PM2.5 (particulate matter of 2.5 microns in diameter or less) from wood-burning devices used for primary heat, supplemental heat or ambiance.

The proposed rule amendments:

• Restrict availability of the “sole source of heat” exemption by requiring that residences seeking to use the exemption to replace or upgrade any existing non-certified wood-burning device or fireplace to an EPA-certified wood-burning device, and register that EPA-certified device with the Air District;

• Provide a temporary exemption for non-functional, permanently installed heaters;

• Provide an exemption for loss of natural gas and/or electric power;

• Update restrictions on the sale or resale of wood-burning devices to require EPA certified cleaner burning technology;

• Require a proactive and informative disclosure describing the negative health impacts of PM2.5 when selling, leasing, or renting properties with a wood-burning device;

• Require rental properties in natural gas service areas to have a permanently installed form of heat that does not burn solid fuel;

• Limit installations in new building construction to only non-wood burning devices;

Require the replacement of an existing uncertified wood-burning device with a clean burning device if a fireplace or chimney remodel exceeds $15,000 and requires a building permit; and,

• Further restrict visible emissions from wood-burning devices to be consistent with other sources of visible emissions addressed by Regulation 6, Rule 1: 

General Requirements.

To interpret the current regulations­— You can burn wood but you must replace your wood burning device with an EPA Certified wood burner - or other clean heat source. Having changed out my wood stove a few years ago, I know that the difference is dramatic. Not only does wood burn clean - there is literally very little smoke coming out of my chimney - and it also burns more efficiently. You can also increase efficiency and decrease smoke by burning pressed logs or pellets (made  from lumber mill byproducts), although you can’t heat your home when the electricity goes out with pellet stoves.

The bottom line is that these rules are coming our way, just like the new septic rules impacting people who live along waterways. Both of these environmental regulations impact many living in rural environments. It’s a double-hit financially. As one woman stated at a recent meeting on septic systems along impaired waterways, people live in these rural communities because they are affordable. The regulations will take away another affordable housing opportunity. Rock and a hard place.

If these regulations impact you, now is the time to let your concerns be known. Written comments on the proposed rule will be accepted until 9:00 a.m. on Monday, October 19, 2015. You may request a copy of the entire document which covers all aspects of this rule change, including the estimated costs.

Comments on the proposed rule and staff report should be sent to:

Mail: Attn: Tracy Lee

Bay Area Air Quality Management District

939 Ellis Street, San Francisco, California, 94109

Telephone: (415) 749-4989

Email: public@baaqmd.gov

Just like the upgrades on wastewater systems, your only choice may be to move or make the upgrade. What’s important is to make sure that the regulators are aware of the hardships these upgrades may inflict on you. In both cases, it’s possible that there will be funding made available to make the improvements. The more comments received, the more regulators will have the information they need to work towards a solution that we can live with.