“Chestnuts roasting on an open fire…”
– Nat King Cole
“I have a fireplace in my kitchen that I light every night, no matter what.”
— Alice Waters
“We thought of this as a doable way of trying to get our wood-burning emissions in the Bay Area ratcheted down over time.”
— Wayne Kino, Director of Compliance and Enforcement, BAAQMD
Who, exactly, is Wayne Kino, and how can he take away my fireplace? According to his LinkedIn profile, Wayne Kino has never been elected to any public office. In fact, he doesn’t even list another job except his current one, unless you call graduating from UC Berkeley a job. But if this man gets his way, it will be illegal to sell 1.4 million houses in the Bay Area if their hearth is warmed by the welcoming crackle of a wood fire.
In a new law that the Bay Area Air Quality Management District could impose in all nine Bay Area counties, after Nov. 1, 2016, Bay Area homes and commercial buildings can not be sold if they have old fireplaces, stoves or other wood-burning devices that fail to meet federal EPA emission standards. Going further yet, BAAQMD also wants to ban all wood-burning devices in new construction, whether they’re certified by the EPA or not.
What options do home sellers have? They can satisfy the Director of Compliance by replacing their classic open hearth fireplaces with a glass-enclosed version powered by natural gas or electricity, or an EPA-certified stove. The cost of this retrofit ranges from hundreds of dollars to over $3,000. Of course, Mr. Kino will also give you a cheaper way to achieve compliance: Just seal your fireplace off with bricks. Presumably, you’ll be free to choose the color.
This is not the first time BAQMD has tried to end the satisfaction that comes from warming your soul by a fire. In 2007, they banned burning wood on nights when the District predicts fine particle pollution concentrations will violate federal public health standards. Trying to give this affront a friendly name, they called them Spare The Air Days. Of course, these are usually winter nights, when a fire is a welcome comfort.
In the most recent Spare the Air season from Nov. 1 through Feb. 28, the Air District had six days of unhealthy particulates. They received 3,739 complaints about wood burning, and issued 155 tickets to burn violators. First-time violators can either pay a $100 fine, or take an online smoke-education class. Second-time offenders are fined $500. BAAMQD imposes these fines because they believe tiny wood smoke particles can cause lung and heart diseases, asthma attacks and strokes.
To sum up, for a situation that caused a few people a problem on six nights last year, an unelected government body can impose a regulation that affects 1.4 million homes every day of the year. They plan to promote this idea at nine public “workshops” around the Bay Area this Spring.
After pretending to care about public input after the workshops, the 22 unelected members of the BAAQMD Board of Directors will be able to make whatever decision they like. From the BAAQMD website: “The Board has the authority to develop and enforce regulations for the control of air pollution within the Air District.”
For all these reasons, I think homeowners should attend local BAAQMD workshops with their own woodburning devices:
Torches and pitchforks.