In 1993 the San Joaquin Valley Air Pollution Control District adopted a rule to reach attainment of a federal mandate to clean up the air pollution problem in the valley.
Fireplace and wood stove manufacturers took notice and began to update their products by producing technology that emitted no more than 7.5 grams of particulate matter per hour a far cry from the original products that produced close to 80 to 100 grams per hour. What then became law ended up eliminating the ability of those "gross polluters" (dirty burning stoves) from being sold in the United States, something seen as beneficial by everyone from the federal government to the Hearth Industry.
This was the first step in the local air district's ability to reduce particulate emissions.
As the air district was put under more pressure from the Environmental Protection Agency to further clean up the valley's air, consumers were asked to "voluntarily" not burn even in the cleaner burning devices that EPA had designated as "certified."
They asked that residents willingly refrain from using their wood and pellet stoves on days the district deemed unhealthy. A bit of a nuisance for us hearth dealers, but overall was just another talking point we needed to relate to customers.
As the rule was amended over time, the "voluntary" status changed to "mandatory." Now homeowners no longer were "asked" not to burn wood, they were told not to, even those who invested in the now even cleaner technology that the EPA had designated as a "certified" hearth product.
The hearth industry technology had come a long way: some devices were now emitting less than 0.5 grams of particulate matter per hour. As a business in this region, I was confused. How does the EPA designate these products as clean but the local air district won't even allow my customers to use them?
The "no-burn" days have increased over the years, but not because the air is getting worse. In fact, the air quality has gotten much better in the valley. Yet, it's still not enough. The federal mandate to have the Air Quality Index (AQI) at a certain level has still not been attained and even by the admission of the scientists from the Air Resources Board (ARB) and the local district that wood burning only contributes a small portion to the overall problem (because individuals using wood heat are an easier target than large industry or mobile sources), wood burning is getting further and further regulated.
Consumers who have done their part in cleaning the air by purchasing clean burning products are now being penalized for their investment. The air district makes no allowance for clean burning technology, and that has residents who have invested in these products mad.
This air district needs a wake up call. They are again proposing that even more stringent regulations be imposed on wood burning. The new amendment, which still provides no allowance for clean burning technology, will lower the AQI index by an additional 33 percent, which will create as many as 100 (or more) days where the burn ban will be in effect in different parts of the region.
As a small-business owner in this valley, I've managed to survive the past few years, even with the economic turmoil we are in. It hasn't been easy, and hard decisions have had to be made. One would think that shutting an industry out and completely putting them out of business wouldn't be on the agenda for the district, but apparently it is.
If you heat your home with wood or pellets, I urge you to contact the district and share your concern. Write to Anna Myers at the San Joaquin Valley Air Pollution Control District, 1990 E. Gettysburg Ave., Fresno 93726 or e-mail Pmplans@valleyair.org or call (559) 230-6000.
Goldstein is president of The Spa Doctor & Stove Center in Modesto.