PSCAA: Harsh wood stove laws hurt “heat-or-eat” rural poor

Wood Stove “Mobile Apps” for Rural Poor and Elderly?

Forty percent of low-income Americans reported that they have had to choose between paying for food and utilities in the past year.

Should local governments have sweeping power to change how we live–especially when those changes would hurt our neediest citizens the most?

Should a government’s decision making process be more accessible to those who are affected the most?

The Puget Sound Clean Air Agency (PSCAA) is an unelected, little known, and powerful agency that has created strict and confusing regulations over wood burning, that have a great impact on low income citizens in King, Kitsap, Pierce, and Snohomish Counties.

In an apparent attempt to share their draconian wood stove laws with folks who are trying hard not to freeze in their homes, PSCAA came up with some really cool mobile apps.

If you have any problems with PSCAA’s apps, they’ll try their best to get back to you within two business days.  Of course, that doesn’t stop you from getting hit with massive fines if you go ahead and light your wood stove because it’s cold and you can’t reach them for days.

burn ban mobile apps

It’s a really good guess that most low-income people struggling with heat-or-eat quandaries can’t afford a fully loaded smartphone.  Many are elderly, with no access to the internet on any device.

That fact apparently got left out of PSCAA’s brainstorming sessions.  Not even on a group chat.

If you think the apps are confusing, check out these photos

Among other stringent laws, the PSCAA has outlawed wood stove smoke that exceeds 20% opacity for six consecutive minutes within an hour.

The PSCAA posts tiny, blurry black and white photos on their website, showing what is supposed to be the difference between 20% opacity (the legal limit, as shown on the far left photo) and illegal smoke (the other two photos.)

This is the exact size of the photos on PSCAA’s website, as shown on a full size laptop:

Even if landline-bound Grandpa can make it to an old-fashioned computer, he’ll still have a hard time analyzing these pictures.

And even if you figured out the photos–complying with the six consecutive minutes per hour thing would be a Herculean challenge.

Especially if you’re just plain freezing.

Not to mention that standing outside in the cold with a stopwatch–staring at your chimney for hours–kind of defeats the purpose of heating your home.

And what are you supposed to do at night?  Not burn, because it’s too dark to see the smoke?

Except during burn bans, the PSCAA does allow the burning of “clean” wood, as long as a certified wood stove is used.

However, the purchase and installation of a new certified wood stove can be prohibitive for many low-income citizens, even with government incentives.

Others, however, believe that the PSCAA doesn’t go nearly far enough.

Deb Marchant of “Citizens For a Wood Smokefree City of Shoreline Washingtonstates , “I am in agreement with the mission and goal of the American Lung Association if and when it states that wood burning should no longer be allowed.  Eventually this will occur.  My question is, ‘What can I do to further help the inevitable outlawing of wood burning altogether?’”

Spoken like someone with a full belly and all caught up on her power bill.

Wood Heat’s Role in “Heat or Eat” for Low-Income Citizens

The Alliance for Green Heat (AGH) states, “Counties with per-capita income below the federal poverty threshold have almost three times more wood heat users than counties above the federal poverty threshold.”

The AGH states that wood heat can help families stay off public assistance and improve their winter time nutrition.

According to the AGH:

Numerous reports document the “heat or eat” dilemma in America. 

Forty percent [of low-income Americans] reported that they have had to choose between paying for food and utilities in the past year.

Low-income households have lower food expenditures and worse nutritional outcomes than more affluent families during cold-weather periods. 

Wood stoves help mitigate this problem in rural areas where families typically collect or harvest their own wood.

Wood heat is very affordable, and can reduce landfills.

The AGH states that “unlike traditional fuels, cord wood can be harvested at very low cost on most state and federal lands…or collected from urban and suburban waste wood that otherwise often ends up in landfills.”

PSCAA Hearings Not Reasonably Accessible to Rural Low-Income Citizens

PSCAA takes input at public hearings regarding their regulations, and justifies decisions based on input from public hearings and comment.

However, PSCAA’s public hearings take place at their Seattle headquarters.

Even if rural, low-income citizens learn about these public hearings, the cost of traveling to Seattle and paying for parking is way out of bounds, when you can’t afford groceries.

More affluent citizens and urban dwellers have the time and money to attend public hearings and express their views.

Is a government agency like PSCAA really accountable and transparent to its citizens, when access to its decision making process is prohibitive to those who are affected the most?

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