Air Quality Board: No New Wood-Burning Fireplaces

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Southland air quality officials Friday unanimously passed a ban on new wood-burning fireplaces. KPCC's Molly Peterson reports the public hearing still had some sparks.

Molly Peterson: New homebuilders, along with homeowners doing some remodeling, will feel the effects of the South Coast Air Quality Management District's rule in a year. Air officials say forcing new construction to use gas-burning or other cleaner fireplaces will cut about a ton of particulates a day.

But that reduction counts on estimates of 54,000 new homes a year in the Southland – triple last year's figure. And Mark Gray of the Building Industry Association of California pointed out the new rule doesn't touch millions of existing fireplaces.

Mark Gray: Given the amount of uncontrolled devices, one just has to wonder, you know, what's the real effect of this, you know, given that comparison and given that reality?

Peterson: The air board's executive officer, Barry Wallerstein, says South Coast is under pressure from the EPA to cut particulates any way possible – or lose federal funding for roads and other projects. And about half the other air districts in California have bans like this already.

A second part of the rule provides that in three years, South Coast must designate high pollution days when logs must stay unlit in any fireplace. Air officials expect that might happen as little as twice during the winter, but could happen a lot more. San Bernardino homeowner Stewart Cumming says they'll have to catch him to stop him.

Stewart Cumming: You aren't going to regulate my chimney, you aren't going to tell me when and where I can burn, I'm going to burn, let's see you come and try and enforce it.

Peterson: The fireplace rule has plenty of exceptions. They won't help Cumming, but they will let homes far from gas lines or at elevation use wood-burning stoves for heat. Ceremonial burning for tribal gatherings is OK, too.

Some speakers at the hearing said the idea of the air board making rules inside their homes doesn't sit well. Board Member Joe Lyou said he understood that.

Joe Lyou: I totally agree that this rule crosses a little bit of a line here for us. But it's also important to understand that these rules are based on, and these standards are based on, health protective measures.

Peterson: Lyou said this should be the first rule the board rescinds, as soon as state or federal agencies start regulating particulate pollution from cars and trucks.