The Board of Commissioners is scheduled to consider a proposed ordinance during its Jan. 4 board meeting that would restrict wood burning during winter’s worst air quality days; on average 3 to 5 days per year.
The ordinance would be in effect each year from Oct. 1 through March 1, during which time health officials would look to the National Weather Service for help identifying the worst air quality days. They would issue a no-burn notice to residents through PublicAlerts, social media, on its website, through media and other means.
The ordinance would exempt low income households and those whose sole source of heat is wood stoves. It would also exempt burning during emergency conditions, when other sources of heat are not functioning. The program would be complaint-driven, and households would get two warnings before being subject to potential fines.
The measure, sponsored by Commissioners Sharon Meieran and Jessica Vega Pederson, is scheduled for a first reading on Jan. 4 and will be considered for adoption during the Jan. 11 board meeting.
Meieran and Vega Pederson said a series of community meetings has helped shape the language and solidify their convictions.
“It has really reinforced how the ordinance is the right way to go,” Meieran said. “Our environmental health experts presented solid evidence showing the real impact on public health. I mean, I had an idea, but I didn’t really understand the extent of it. We’re really taking the most common sense, least burdensome approach possible.”
Vega Pederson considered wood some curtailment proposals as a state representative and member of the House Committee on Energy and Environment. Those proposals were being submitted by industry interests. And for good reason. “Being out of compliance with federal clean air standards can result in heavy-handed EPA oversight,” she said at a recent public hearing. “They can set limits on siting or expansion of businesses.”
She said the county’s proposal is mild in comparison, and seemed to address most concerns that people raised at the public meetings.
“Most of the concerns that came up were things that were exempted in the ordinance,” she said. “So really being able to communicate and give people a forum to ask their questions was important to allaying fears.”
“We may have bigger sources of pollution, like cars and trucks,” said Matt Hoffman, who coordinates air pollution policy for the Health Department.. The Federal emission standards regulate vehicle emissions, he said. And the county lobbies state lawmakers every session to force dirty diesel trucks off the roads. “But we’re not doing anything about wood smoke. So it’s an opportunity with a small investment to get a big output.”
Eugene, Medford, Klamath Falls and Pendleton have passed similar ordinances as local jurisdictions struggle to remain in compliance with federal air pollution limits. Washington County has a successful wood stove change-out program to compliment its curtailment requirements.
Tim Davis with the Wood Stove Exchange Program at Washington County’s Office of Community Development, said his team swapped out 179 dirty-burning wood stoves in 15 months, removing as much as 12 tons of particulate matter from the air. They hope to change out 700 stoves within the first five years of the program. That change-out program is something Multnomah County would like to emulate. And while health experts look for ways to fund such a program, the state legislature recently granted $2 million to the Department of Environmental Quality to support local governments with these kinds of programs.
Rachel Sakata, an air quality planner with the DEQ encouraged the county to apply for some of those funds.
“The ordinance you are considering is a way to get in front of all of this and take a proactive approach,” she said at the third public meeting. “Locally-run woodsmoke reduction programs are critical.”
Anyone who wishes to comment but who cannot attend the Jan. 4 or Jan. 11 board meetings can submit written comments to Matt Hoffman at: email@example.com
Read an issue brief about how Multnomah County is effected
View a presentation to the board of commissioners about the ordinance
Review Multnomah County’s proposed ordinance
Find out what other local governments have done to curb wood smoke pollution
Learn how Washington County’s ordinance has worked one year after its adoption