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Cleaner heat, free (or nearly free) for the asking

Post by Kim Bradford on Feb. 23, 2010 at 5:49 pm |
February 25, 2010 8:34 am

This editorial will appear in Wednesday’s print edition.

To the wood-heat holdouts go the spoils.

Tacoma-area homeowners who haven’t yet replaced their outdated wood stoves have the best opportunity yet to switch to a more efficient heating source. But time is running out.

As of Friday, the Puget Sound Clean Air Agency still had nearly two-thirds of the $650,000 it received from the state last year to get rid of old wood stoves – and the agency has only days to spend it.

The current incentives are the most generous offered since state and federal agencies began making the push to clean up Tacoma’s air a few years ago. Low-income households could get a new wood stove for little or nothing out of pocket.

Wood stoves are a big part of the reason why the Tacoma area has Washington’s sootiest air and ranks among the 31 most polluted places in the country. About 63 percent of airborne particulates in this area come from fireplaces and wood stoves during the winter, when pollution levels are at their highest.

The soot, smoke, dust and dirt that pollute the air cause major health problems, especially for the very young, the very old and people with respiratory illnesses.

They also pose hazards to this region’s economy. Emission restrictions on industry – or even the threat of them – could chill investment and job creation.

Pierce County officials tried to get key industrial districts such as the Tideflats, Frederickson and Nalley Valley excluded from the “non- attainment area” designated by the state and federal governments in 2008. The argument was that particulates in those areas were pushing the federal limits only because wood smoke from residential neighborhoods was drifting in. Pierce County lost the fight.

Local agencies have been working on measures to reduce vehicle exhaust, another big contributor to Tacoma’s dirty air. But the region cannot make a significant improvement in air quality without a significant reduction in the wood smoke that comes from home heating.

Officials estimate that tens of thousands of Tacoma-area households still rely on wood stoves. Yet interest in the replacement program has declined even as financial incentives have grown.

The holdouts should reconsider – for themselves and for their community. Voluntary measures are preferable to forced compliance, but not at the cost of public health and economic vitality.

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