No more wimping out!

It’s time to do something about wintertime smoke pollution

Where and when
The Sept. 24 meeting of the Board of Governors of the Butte County Air Quality Management District will begin at 10:15 a.m. in the Chico City Council chambers, Fourth and Main streets downtown.

The last time we editorialized about the Board of Governors of the Butte County Air Quality Management District was in December 2008, when we gave the group our first (and so far only) “Wimp-Out Award.” The award, we said, was “for the public agency that provides the most shameful example of punting when it should have acted.”

The AQMD board earned that honor by failing to respond when confronted with two irrefutable facts about wintertime smoke pollution in Chico. One was that the district’s voluntary “Check Before You Light” program, asking people using old wood heaters and fireplaces not to burn on smoky days, wasn’t working. The other was that the federal Environmental Protection Agency was threatening to declare the entire county out of compliance if something wasn’t done to reduce winter air pollution in Chico, where the problem is most acute.

If the county is declared out of compliance, the EPA could impose mandates on everyone—including residents of foothills communities—to lessen the amount of smoke entering the air.

Instead of doing its job and voting to institute mandatory no-burning days in Chico, the AQMD board punted, saying it wanted to hear from the Chico City Council first. Anyone who knew the council’s leanings on such issues—this is a group justly proud of its commitment to sustainability—could have predicted how it would respond. And, sure enough, in February 2009 the council said not only that it supported mandatory no-burning days in winter, but also that it favored tighter pollution standards.

Now the AQMD board has another opportunity to do the right thing. After holding three public educational workshops locally in August and September, it will vote next Thursday (Sept. 24) on the proposed Rule 208 that would institute mandatory wood-burning curtailment periods during times of high pollution.

As has been pointed out many times, the rule would not apply to users of EPA-certified wood heaters or those who have no other source of heat, and it would apply only to the greater Chico area.

Wood smoke is dangerous. The microscopic particles in smoke have been linked to significant health problems. People with asthma are especially at risk, but even otherwise healthy folks can suffer. This is reason in itself to support Rule 208; combined with the likelihood of federal and state sanctions if the district doesn’t act, it makes approval a no-brainer. Don’t wimp out on us again, governors.