Burn bans: cut down on pollution

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Posted Thursday, February 26, 2015 - 2:31pm

Utah Gov. Gary Herbert proposed a wood-burning ban for several northern Utah counties including, but not limited to, Salt Lake, Utah, Weber and Tooele.

The suggestion first came from the Utah Air Quality Board, and Gov. Herbert first mentioned the ban in late 2013. Utah legislature voted on it late last year and opened the issue to public commentary on Jan. 1, 2015

The main reason for the ban is to cut down on pollution. Wood burning increases the amount of fine particulate, or PM2.5, in the air, a concern in areas around the Wasatch Front due to its potential as a health-hazard. Wood burning accounts for about 5 percent of Utah’s total emissions, which is significant in itself. The ban would outlaw wood burning in several counties from Nov. 1 to March 15, leaving only those who depended on wood as their sole source of heat able to burn.

Many responded to the proposal with contempt. There are those who regularly supplement their electric or gas heating with wood burning, those who have invested in expensive low-emitting woodstoves, and those who make a living by chopping, moving and selling firewood. Many people burn wood and related objects as an effective garbage disposal with the added benefit of heating their homes.

Now, there are a couple of great reasons for this ban to go through, one of which concerns efficiency. In order to match gasoline, a greater amount of wood must be burnt, mass for mass, releasing more pollutants than gasoline would. Another issue regards the degradation of air quality that wood burning emissions cause. Polluted air is harder on the human body and is a serious concern for those who suffer from asthma.

The concern that our government has for cleaner air is honorable, but is it effective? I don’t think so for two reasons; the first of which being cultural standards. It is a part of our culture to burn wood for heat and fuel. Our ancient ancestors did it, and it works effectively for us as well. A good woodstove looks nice in a home too.

My second reason has to do with the wisdom of targeting wood burning as a pollutant. Yes, of course it’s a pollutant, it does pollute. But even though it burns less efficiently than gasoline, fuels including gasoline and coal are burned much more prevalently throughout the country.

Our government should focus less on something so domestic as burning wood and turn their attention toward development and perpetuation of renewable alternatives. Heck, the new Nissan Leaf runs on nothing but electricity, costs about $25,000, and only gets around 100 miles per charge, which won’t matter in the near future due to the growing infrastructure of charging stations. Affordable technology that does, for now, use coal to produce the electricity needed. But even then, the electricity that comes from burning coal is more efficient in mechanical applications than the coal could ever be, and even that won’t matter once solar energy becomes prevalent. If it ever reaches that point, of course, but our government is preoccupied with wood burning at the moment.

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