Clean air plan OKd by Southland regulators

Times Staff Writer

Southern California air regulators Friday approved a comprehensive clean air plan that, if fully implemented, could place stringent restrictions on home fireplaces.

But individual elements of the plan, approved unanimously by the South Coast Air Quality Management District, must be separately passed by the board in order to become law. A September vote on the fireplace measure is scheduled, but several members who approved the larger plan say they may not ultimately support those restrictions.

“We all have to do our part, including ... the citizens of this region ... but I do not believe that we can have a Gestapo approach to fireplaces,” said Riverside County Supervisor Roy Wilson, whose district could be hit hardest if the proposals pass.


Those proposals include a ban on wood-burning fireplaces in all new homes in Los Angeles, Orange and portions of San Bernardino and Riverside counties and a ban on wood-fueled fires in some areas during winter pollution spikes. It would also require homeowners in the most highly polluted areas of the Inland Empire to remove or close off fireplaces and wood stoves, or install costly pollution control devices on them, before selling a house.

Carla Walecka, head of the Realtors Committee on Air Quality advising the agency, said the home sale provision could snarl sales in western Riverside and San Bernardino counties.

“Point of sale enforcement is the slowest, most inefficient method that the district could choose to reduce fine particles emitted by older wood stoves and fireplace inserts,” Walecka said. The approach would “complicate tens of thousands of property transfers” in an already cooling market, she said.

Board members said it was vital to take every step necessary to clear the region’s air, the worst in the nation.

“Air pollution has created a silent epidemic responsible for up to 5,400 premature deaths each year” in Southern California, said William Burke, board chairman of the agency that oversees air quality in L.A. and Orange counties and portions of Riverside and San Bernardino counties. “We must go beyond business-as-usual solutions to achieve healthful air for Southland residents.”

The fireplace regulations as currently proposed would reduce a small portion -- an estimated 7 tons a day on average -- of the 192-ton-a-day reductions in nitrogen oxides necessary to bring the region into compliance with the federal Clean Air Act. Nitrogen oxides are a key ingredient in both smog and particulate pollution.

Burke and other board members said they had been ordered by the California Air Resources Board to develop regulations on commercial charbroilers and fireplaces and were required to do so under state law because other air districts have done so, including the San Joaquin, Sacramento and Bay Area districts.

Burke said he thought public attention to and dismay over the fireplace portions of the mammoth plan were “misplaced. This document is 1,600 pages long, and they want to focus on fireplaces.... We’re at a crossroads here on public health.”

The plan approved Friday also contains requirements for reducing soot and other pollutants from cars, trucks, refineries and other industrial sources. Local officials said these measures would do far more than fireplace restrictions and urged the state and federal government to join the agency in pushing for even more aggressive reductions in those areas.

Still, Burke said, it’s tough asking ordinary people to make changes that hit close to home to protect the larger environment.

“I got a text message from my [business] partner in the middle of the meeting saying ‘Save My Fireplace,’ ” laughed Burke. “Now that’s intense lobbying.”