Wednesday, June 07, 2023

Air quality regs pass first reading

| December 15, 2005 11:00 PM

A first reading of proposed changes to air quality regulations for the Libby area was approved by the Lincoln County Commissioners Wednesday.

A second reading and adoption of the changes is scheduled for Jan. 9. The commissioners will be taking into account public comments received during a hearing accompanying Wednesday's first reading.

Comments centered largely on proposed changes in regulations for open burning for forest management and fire hazard reduction. Currently, management burning is allowed from March through November. The changes would limit that to April through October. Several people attending Wednesday's meeting suggested that burning should be allowed in November, when slash piles are dry but the fire hazard is low. Air quality specialist Kendra Lind of the county's environmental health department responded that there are typically few days in November where weather conditions permit open burning without significant negative effects on the airshed.

Other proposed changes would limit residential open burning — not including small recreational fires — to the month of April, with a provision for an extension to May if warranted by poor weather earlier in the spring. The open burning changes would go into effect in 2006.

Starting in 2007, only wood stoves certified by the federal Environmental Protection Agency would be allowed to be used in the Libby area. The area affected by the regulations extends along Montana Highway 37 nearly to Canoe Gulch, west along the Kootenai River to the Bighorn Terrace area, and south to Libby Creek. In the Pipe Creek area, the restrictions would extend to the neighborhood around the Red Dog Saloon and Doak Creek.

The changes are a response to the area's designation as a non-attainment area under new federal air quality standards governing particulate matter under

2.5 microns in size. Ongoing monitoring since 1999 has confirmed that the area consistently exceeds the federal annual average standard for PM-2.5. Wood smoke has been determined to be responsible for more than 80 percent of the pollution.

The revised regulations developed by the county health board aim to reduce fine particulate emissions to a level that will not only meet current standards but that will also provide a "compliance margin" that will meet expected tightening of federal regulations in the future while allowing for economic growth and development.

In addition to the proposed ordinance changes, response to the non-compliance issue has included a woodstove changeout program that received support from the Hearth, Patio and Barbecue Association, which represents the woodstove industry, and the EPA. The HPBA provided 300 woodstoves and associated equipment for distribution to area low-income households currently using non-certified stoves while funding from the EPA is paying for installation.

The second phase of the woodstove changeout program, scheduled for next year, will not be income-based. The cost of replacing old woodstoves with new certified models or alternate heating systems will be offset by a combination of vouchers and tax credits to owners, but some form of co-payment is expected to be required. The exact amount of assistance will depend on available funding.