In the Pipeline: Air quality leaders' responses not based in facts

OK, hot off the presses, grim lowlights from the new Air Quality Management District (AQMD) staff report, published Wednesday, with proposed amended rules for 444, the beach bonfire ban.

To anyone that has not quite grasped just how agenda-driven this organization is, and how intensely focused they are in imposing their draconian ban on beach bonfires, please take a moment to read some of their opinions following the meeting last Friday where many of us from Huntington Beach got up and spoke our minds — and common sense.

Here we go.

1. Comment: The beach fire rings are not a significant source of air pollution and should not be regulated. There are many other sources of air pollution that should be regulated. The fire rings are a Southern California tradition and should be preserved for future generations.

AQMD Staff Response: As noted in the staff report, wood smoke poses a potential health exposure risk to beach goers and nearby residents. Wood smoke from beach fires can affect the public health and is a local exposure risk to the surrounding community. This is further magnified as many of those using the fire rings have been observed burning materials other than fire wood. Federal, State, and local air pollution regulations have been implemented for all forms of particulate pollution and every effort continues to be made to address emissions from all source categories. Low emission alternatives, such as use of gaseous fuels, may be a potential solution that would allow the continued use of fire rings in Southern California.

2. Comment: Proponents of removing the fire rings argue that this would deprive them of "access" to burning wood as a low-cost activity they enjoy. But the real "accessibility" issue is that many people are prevented from accessing and using the beaches due to wood smoke's caustic, deadly fumes. The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) is basic civil rights law that requires cities to remove barriers to the access and use of public spaces. To those with breathing or cardiac disabilities, wood smoke presents a true "physical barrier" to use of the beach areas where wood burning is allowed.

AQMD Staff Response: Thank you for your comment. The purpose of prohibiting beach fires is precisely to eliminate heath exposure risk to beach goers and the nearby residences originating from such activities. To the extent the commentator has a concern with the Americans with Disability Act, the commentator should raise that concern with the city or county where the fire rings are located.

3. Comment: The City of Huntington Beach estimates a loss in revenue of $1 million due to a reduction in fees collected for parking after 3 p.m. OC State Parks estimates a loss of $21,000 in revenue from firewood sales during the third quarter.

AQMD Staff Response: Staff acknowledges a reduction in parking revenues. Prohibition of beach burning would reduce PM emissions and public exposure to harmful pollutants.

4. Comment: Hotels, stores and other businesses in the area would be impacted by a reduction in beach goers that specifically travel to the areas to use beach fire rings. A local hotel sells between $50,000 and $60,000 per year in kits to make campfire s'mores and the hotel staff has indicated that some clients specifically stay at that hotel due to the proximity to the beach fire rings and the ease of access to a nighttime activity.

AQMD Staff Response: While it is acknowledged that there may be a reduction in business revenues from persons that specifically travel to the beach to use beach fires rings, the goal of the proposed Rule 444 revisions is to reduce PM emissions and protect public health. Additionally, during the rule development process there have been commentors that have indicated that they do not go to the beach or surrounding areas due to the presence of smoke from beach fires. The proposed amendments would also allow the use of charcoal, gaseous, or liquid fuels at beach areas.

5. Comment: There are other alternatives to reduce emissions from beach fires and removal of all the rings is not necessary. For example, the number of rings could be reduced or they could be moved to be farther away from sensitive land uses. Education programs could be developed to ensure that the public was informed on the health effects from burning garbage. Better enforcement could be used to ensure than only clean dry wood is used. Beach fire burning could be prohibited only on high pollution days.

AQMD Staff Response: Reducing the number of fire rings or improved enforcement of fuel type usage could reduce emissions but the source would still contribute to exceedance of State and federal air quality standards and public exposure to harmful pollutants. As mentioned at the public consultation meeting AQMD staff is exploring the possible use of liquid or other clean fuels to dramatically reduce emissions from beach fire rings. The proposed amendment would also allow the use of charcoal or liquid or gaseous fuels for cooking.

6. Comment: There hasn't been enough time for the public to consider the proposal and there should be meetings in beach communities to get more public input. More information is needed on emissions and health effects from beach fire burning. Special studies need to be conducted during summer months to clearly identify the extent of pollution from beach fires.

AQMD Staff Response: The effective date of the PAR 444 beach burning proposal is Jan. 1, 2015. The health effects from wood smoke exposure are well understood and have been summarized in the draft staff report. AQMD staff continues to review and evaluate public input and the public is able to provide additional comments to AQMD Governing Board members at the public hearing. AQMD data collection is ongoing and will be presented to the public as part of the rule development process.

Ruthless and rigid. Devoid of reason and most tellingly, any sort of specific proof or scientific evidence. Nothing. Not a single fact. And all beach cities are the same. Newport is Huntington is Long Beach is Dockweiler. We are all the same. We are all the same.

Everything we said last week was systematically dismissed. Everything. As a good friend of mine described, "Unless AQMD pulls the consent item for discussion — and actually listens to the need for more data, agency-to-agency consultation, and real response to public input — this is theater, where they pretend to acknowledge the public. The attitude is they know better than us and don't need to justify their action. We are the irrational public.

This is why we must fight. This is why they must be stopped.

Tell the AQMD board members what you think. You can reach them at

To sign the petition to help stop this draconian ban, click here.

CHRIS EPTING is the author of 19 books, including the new "Baseball in Orange County," from Arcadia Publishing. You can chat with him on Twitter @chrisepting or follow his column at

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