BY KELLY KEITER
SALT LAKE CITY – The public meetings are done, for now. And the feedback was overwhelmingly negative.
The Department of Environmental Quality is still taking public comment on the proposed wood burning ban until Feb. 9, but a series of public forums drew hundreds, if not thousands, of people against a complete ban.
“What we've heard so far is people that are impacted by this burning restriction are certainly concerned about it,” said Bryce Bird, air quality director with the Department of Environmental Quality.
For the past three weeks, Bird has heard the complaints. He has also been a target of Utahns’ anger about a proposed ban on wood burning during peak inversion months.
“Really, what we`re trying to do is improve air quality, so meet the federal health standards,” Bird said. “When we look at the sources of air pollution, of course, there are many sources, automobiles being the largest component, but all of our buildings, how we heat our homes.”
After seven public forums across northern Utah, the DEQ is now changing its position. A complete wood burning ban appears to be off the table, for now.
“We’re going to be taking those comments and responding to each one, and then likely re-proposing something that is limited in scope, but still addresses the issue that, when we burn wood, when we burn coal here along the Wasatch front, it impacts the regional air quality, as well as neighbors,” Bird said.
The DEQ is working on a new proposal, one that would involve more incentives for people to convert their wood burning stoves to newer, cleaner models. There will also be more money available for families who burn wood as their sole source of heat.
Those who supported the original ban also heard the public backlash and understand why the DEQ is switching gears.
“It’s unfortunate that this particular proposal wasn`t structured properly,” said Matt Pacenza, executive director of the nonprofit group Heal Utah. “There wasn’t enough time to educate people and it certainly met a tidal wave of opposition. So, it’s not an unreasonable decision to take a step back for now.”
The DEQ plans to wrap up taking public comments and addressing residents’ concerns before making changes to the current proposal in the next few months.