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Bill Eases Wood-Burning Curbs

Judy Fahys/KUER
A House panel passed legislation to ease wood-burning restrictions and send a message to Gov. Gary Herbert and state regulators that wood-burning curbs proposed earlier this year -- and now withdrawn -- went too far.

The controversy over wood-burning and air pollution flared up again Tuesday before a legislative committee.

Rep. Brad Dee, R-Ogden, is sponsoring a billto ease wood burning restrictions. It amounts to a rebuke of Gov. Gary Herbert’s proposal to ban wood-burning all winter in northern Utah’s pollution hotspots.

Dee deflected criticism that he’d excluded important community voices while drafting his bill with the wood-stove industry’s help.

“What are we afraid of?” he said, testifying before the House Natural Resources, Agriculture and Environment Committee. “You know, I’m offended. I’m offended by saying that I’m not talking to particular people. I’m talking to my citizens and my constituents.”

Dee predicted his approach will improve air quality measurably.

But the Division of Air Quality testified that it will make wood-burning limits impossible to enforce. And an industry coalition warned the bill could shift an even greater pollution-cleaning burden onto businesses that already have spent millions of dollars reducing emissions.

Erin Mendenhall sits on the Salt Lake City Council and the Utah Air Quality Board. She also represents the health advocacy group Breathe Utah.

“We’ve only just begun this important conversation about how to balance the serious effects of wood smoke with the scientific data that DAQ provides,” she said. “Now is not a useful time to pass industry-written law that closes options based on the best data available.”

House Bill 396 now goes to the full House for a vote. To become law, it also needs to get Senate approval in the remaining eight days of the session.

Judy Fahys has reported in Utah for two decades, covering politics, government and business before taking on environmental issues. She loves covering Utah, where petroleum-pipeline spills, the nation’s radioactive legacy and other types of pollution provide endless fodder for stories. Previously, she worked for the Salt Lake Tribune in Utah, and reported on the nation’s capital for States News Service and the Scripps League newspaper chain. She is a longtime member of the Society of Environmental Journalists and Investigative Reporters and Editors. She also spent an academic year as a research fellow in the Knight Science Journalism program at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. In her spare time, she enjoys being out in the environment, especially hiking, gardening and watercolor painting.
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