The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and the Bay Area Air Quality Management District (BAAQMD) is starting 2013 with a Spare the Air Warnings for January 1st & 2nd. On these days, it will be allegedly illegal to use fireplaces, pellet stoves, wood stoves and outdoor fire pits. The Bay Area Air Quality Management District’s winter season has begun is expecting to issue 10 to 15 winter Spare the Air alerts between now and Feb. 28.
The Spare the Air is a program established by the Bay Area Air Quality Management District in 1991 was originally created to combat air pollution during the summer in the San Francisco Bay Area. Unfortunately for many California residents, this program has already spread to other metropolitan areas including Sacramento and Los Angeles.
SPARE THE AIR LEGAL ISSUES
Words like “regulation”, “code”, “rule” and even “law” have been used to define the Spare the Air ban, however we were unable to find any California law that states it’s unlawful to burn wood anytime, even Spare the Air days (If you find one, let us know!). According to the BAAQMD website, “on July 9, 2008, the Bay Area Air Quality Management District Board adopted Regulation 6, Rule 3: Wood-Burning Devices to cut the harmful emissions that come from wood smoke.”
Regulation 6, Rule 3 reads as follows: “The Air District’s Wood Burning Rule:
- Restricts wood burning when air quality is unhealthy and a Winter Spare the Air Alert is issued
- Places limits on excessive smoke (exceeding 20-percent opacity)
- Requires that only cleaner-burning EPA-certified stoves and inserts be sold in the Bay Area
- Requires only cleaner-burning EPA-certified stoves and inserts in new construction or remodels
- Prohibits the burning of garbage and other harmful materials
- Requires labeling on firewood and solid fuels sold within the Bay Area.”
The constitutionality of the ban has never been challenged in court, however that hasn’t stopped the BAAQMD from to issuing warnings and fines to violators. In years past violators are subject to a warning letter being issued, which was followed by a $400 fine for a second infraction. This year that has changed.
According to CBS October 2012 article, “Instead of warning letters, first time violators caught lighting a wood fire on a Spare the Air day they will face a $100 fine, said Kristine Roselius, spokeswoman for the Bay Area Air Quality Management District.”
Also good to note, the fine depends on the severity of any later infraction – the duration of the burning and the proximity to a schools or nursing homes. A second violation fee can be upwards of $500. If you get a fine and are a first time violator, you can opt out of paying by attending the Air District’s Wood Smoke Awareness School. That’s right – There is a school for violators of the Spare the Air ban to educate people about wood burning issues.
EFFECTS ON THE PUBLIC
According to the Spare the Air website, “those who rely on fireplaces and wood stoves as their only sources of heat are exempt from the rule.” However, don’t let the Air Inspectors find out! According to California’s State Housing Law, (25 CCR 34) “(a)Every dwelling unit and guest room used or offered for rent or lease shall be provided with heating facilities capable of maintaining a minimum room temperature of 70 degrees F, 24 hours a day.” If residences have only a fireplace available to use, according to California State Housing law their home is “declared to be a substandard building in violation of Section 17920.10 of the Health and Safety Code,” which will be followed by an “immediate order to vacated for demolition or closing for repair and compliance”.
At least 7.15 Million residents of the nine Bay Area counties are supposedly not allowed to offer their friends and family that picture perfect holiday fireplace gathering and are suffering in other ways due to the “alerts”. Since residents weren’t able to use their fireplace, wood burning stoves and other alternative heating sources on particular days their energy bill sky rocketed which leads to one thing… huge, very profitable days for giant energy corporation, PG&E.
As Shelia Smith from Concord states “It’s cheaper to get free wood on Craigslist and start a fire than it is to run the heat all day, and besides my family loves beauty and warmth that comes from that fire.”
To make matters worst, it appears that Spare the Air has a specific agenda to target popular days that people are most likely to gather around their fireplaces. In years past, it’s been “illegal” to have wood burning stoves and fireplaces active on the day before and the day after the following popular holidays: Thanksgiving, Christmas Eve, Christmas Day, New Years Eve and New Year Day.
Apparently the program has sparked an outcry from tattle tailers across the Bay. According to the San Francisco Gate November 2009 Article, “Last year (2008), the BAAQMD received more than 1,400 complaints across the nine-county area and turning in their neighbors for enjoying the age-old tradition. The largest portion of the complaints – 27 percent – came from Marin County. Contra Costa County was second, with 16 percent of the complaints. Warning letters were sent in 254 cases. Marin County and Contra Costa County were tied for the highest number with 55 each.”
COSTS FOR TAXPAYERS
California Air Resource Board (CARB) is a parent agency that oversees BAAQMD. According to KillCarb.org, (a group protesting the intrusion and financial waste of the Spare the Air program) “Your tax dollars fund California Air Resource Board (CARB). In fiscal year 2007-08 they received $722 million for 1172 employees. In fiscal year 2008-09 they received $650 million for 1272 employees, and in fiscal year 2009-10.” Killcarb.org also claims to have proof that the EPA has falsified their air pollution studies and believes that there’s no merit for the EPA’s regulation in private homes and the lives of millions.
In an NBC article published January 2012 about the Spare the Air program states, “I would say it’s early in the semester, but we are getting a D so far,” said San Jose State public policy expert Edward Lopez. He says “the program doesn’t seem cost-effective. The tab for winter ‘Spare the Air’ is more than $1M. It’s spent on things like phone alerts, advertisements, and the cost to mail citations and warnings. What do they do, send them in gold? That’s a huge amount of money,” said Nelson.
As cited on the Spare the Air – Get the Facts page, the BAAQMD claims to have 70 air inspectors (people who patrol neighborhoods looking for smoke coming from chimneys) on the payroll. Considering the number of warning letters the BAAQMD sends out, that’s an average of just two warnings a year per inspector, since the program began.
All of this coming at a time when every major news source is making reference to the huge financial cliff that Americans are sitting on. It’s also at a time when there’s a national debt of $16, 422, 267, 986, 453, a state debt of $427, 508, 235, 085, and while West Contra Costra County School District requests another waiver (it’s fourth) because it’s unable to pay back it’s $797 million in bond debt that’s currently outstanding.
As Doug Thompson of Martinez states “Is the Spare the Air program something that we should be spending our money on? Or is this another unless money sucking program? I mean, who cares what people do in their homes. It’s ridiculous to think that the government regulates everything from our toilets to when we can use our fireplaces… When is enough enough especially since neither of us can’t afford it.”
SPARE THE AIR SUPPORTERS
So who’s supporting this program? The Contra Costa County Spare the Air Response Team is made up the following local businesses and individuals:
- 511 Contra Costa
- Bauer’s Transportation
- Bishop Ranch
- Contra Costa Center
- Contra Costa County Department of Public Health
- East Bay Bicycle Coalition
- Enterprise Rideshare
- Kaiser Permanente
- Monument Community Partnership
- Office of Assemblywoman Susan Bonilla (Click for her contact info)
- Solar Richmond
- Sustainable Contra Costa
For those that are wondering what the public thinks of the fireplace police, it’s not good. According to March 2012 ABC article, “Residents have called the inspectors “communists,” “disciples of Hitler,” “a disgrace to this country,” “inconsiderate,” “obnoxious” and “out of control.” In one (letter), the writer said he’s “enraged” that they’ve “ruined every holiday…” Another told them they’re going to hell.”
So according to the information available it seems that this is a misguided if not intrusive program that is both costly and ineffective. It’s also clearly not popular with the public and seems to be something that our already fully in debt government can’t afford. What are your thoughts?