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Utah Proposes Winter Wood Burning Ban to Improve Air Quality

In an effort to improve air quality across Utah during the winter season, the Utah Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ) has proposed a seasonal wood burn ban, much to the chagrin of many locals.

The ban would eliminate solid fuel burning in fireplaces and wood/coal stoves from Nov. 1 to March 15, except for homeowners whose homes are heated solely by wood.

The proposal comes after Gov. Gary Herbert requested the the Air Quality Board explore options for improving wintertime air quality along Utah's Wasatch Front and Cache Valley.

The region suffers from winter temperature inversions, which occur when a dense layer of cold air becomes trapped under a layer of warm air.

The warm layer of air acts like a lid, trapping pollutants underneath. The Wasatch Front valleys and their surrounding mountains act like a bowl, keeping this cold air in the valleys.

The snow-covered valley floors reflect rather than absorb the heat from the sun, preventing the normal vertical mixing of warm and cold air.

"Additionally, high pressure sitting over the region during the wintertime results in light winds, that just aren't sufficient for mixing the air," Expert Meteorologist Brett Anderson said.

"The inversion just stays trapped."

The longer an inversion lasts, the higher the level of trapped pollution.

According to the DEQ, the areas included in the proposed ban routinely violate the federal health-based standard for particulate matter, and solid fuel burning has been found to be a significant contributor to fine particulate pollution.

Though mandatory burn ban days already exist for this region during wintertime inversions, a full-fledged seasonal ban is opposed by many.

According to Utahns for Responsible Burning, an organization strongly opposed to a seasonal ban: "The Utah Department of Environmental Quality estimates that wood smoke is approximately 5% of this problem. Even if burning is completely banned, it won't solve the valley's brown cloud."

Car exhaust, factory emissions and other pollutants contribute to the region's poor air quality.

The organization believes that the ban punishes citizens who invested in newer, cleaner burning stoves and will be a disincentive for others to upgrade to more environmentally responsible hearth products.

Others say that the cost of using an alternative form of heat is too great.

"I know many families that will be impacted. I know families that will have to choose between food and keeping their families warm," Utah resident Debi Rosenlund Brozovich said.

"No business or industry has ever been asked to reduce pollution by 100 percent."

In an effort to make the ban more affordable to local residents, the DEQ has agreed to subsidize the costs for low-income families. Additionally, it exempts households whose only option for heat is wood burning.

"Homeowners whose homes are heated solely by wood and are registered with DAQ as a sole source residence would be permitted to continue heating with wood," the DEQ said.

On Tuesday, more than 500 people showed up to Brigham City's public hearing. The hearing was one of seven scheduled during the 40-day public comment period, which closes Feb. 9.