Legislators address wood stove ban controversy

Legislative aide Jennifer Waldref, speaking for state Reps. Steve Tharinger and Kevin Van de Wege (D- 24 district) addressed a controversy over a bill currently alive in the Legislature that the Concerned Citizens of Clallam County's newsletter claims could lead to a banning of wood stove use in Clallam County.

Copies of an email from Concerned Citizens has been circulating in the community in Forks, both in a print out and via email. 

The statement in a Feb. 27 Concerned Citizens' online newsletter states:

"From Senate Bill SB6102 and House Bill HB 2326: Protecting air quality that is  impacted by high emitting solid fuel burning devices. These bills surrender our private property rights to the discretion of the Federal EPA as to the definition of air quality standards. Are elected officials in Olympia  or Washington DC familiar with life on the Olympic Peninsula? The language of this legislation allows that officials...may include requiring disclosure, removal, rendering inoperable, providing evidence of destruction ... as may be approved by ... the department of wood stoves or fireplaces in private residences 

"The House has already passed its version and the Senate version is out of committee. Representative VanDeWege voted Yes on the bill. Representative 

"Tharinger also voted Yes and is shown as a co-sponsor. Senator Hargrove has committed to either vote No or change the language to apply only to Pierce County. Representative VanDeWege received a great deal of feedback from District 24 citizens objecting to this bill. Kudos to Representative VanDeWege for proactively calling constituents to assure them that the legislation is intended to apply only to Pierce County. He added that it is highly unlikely that the restrictions would ever apply to Clallam County; however, a review of the current legislation finds NO language limiting the regulation to Pierce County or exempting Clallam County... "

In a statement posted on the organization's website on Thursday, March 1, the group said state Sen. Jim Hargrove's has noted that he will vote against the bills and is asking for an amendment to the bill that it only pertain to Pierce County. The group claims the bill, if left unamended and passed, would affect the entire state.

The response from Van de Wege and Tharinger, released Friday morning, March 2, is headlined "Local legislators decry fear-mongering over air quality measure" and states: 

"A bill no one testified against during its first public hearing, and which passed the state House of Representatives by a wide bipartisan margin, is now generating opposition based on misinformation. 

State Representatives Steve Tharinger (D – Dungeness) and Kevin Van De Wege (D – Sequim) say those who are against House Bill 2326 are completely misinterpreting the bill’s intent and are starting a fear-mongering opposition campaign based on that misinterpretation.

" 'I co-sponsored this bill because it’s about saving jobs and industries that are vital to our state’s economy,' Tharinger said.  'Both the Tacoma/Pierce County Chamber of Commerce and the Independent Business Association testified in favor of it, and not a single person testified against.  Republicans and Democrats voted in favor of it without reservations, both in committee and on the House floor.'

"House Bill 2326 addresses the use of uncertified wood burning stoves, inserts or fireplaces at least twenty years old in certain parts of Pierce County. It allows for a local air pollution control authority or the state Department of Ecology to call a Stage One burn ban at a lower threshold than the federal standard.  The bill specifically exempts residents for whom the stove, insert or fireplace is the sole source of heat.

" 'There is absolutely zero threat of government coming into people’s homes and taking away their wood stoves.  I repeat:  zero,' said Van De Wege.  'But without this bill passing, there are very serious health and economic threats for Pierce County, which is a major economic center for our state.  Federal regulations would prohibit industries from locating or expanding in the area, and that means loss of jobs.  Nobody wants that.'

"Both Tharinger and Van De Wege say their offices have been flooded recently with emails from people expressing concern over the bill, which is now under consideration before the state Senate.  Most of the messages the legislators have received indicate a high level of misinformation about the bill’s specifics.  The group Concerned Citizens of Clallam County recently highlighted the measure in its web newsletter, which claimed that HB 2326, '…surrender[s] our private property rights to the discretion of the Federal EPA as to the definition of air quality standards.'

"Tharinger says as a former county commissioner, he understands Pierce County officials’ concerns regarding restrictions that would be enforced from outside authorities if the county’s air quality was out of compliance. He also notes that poor air quality harms public health and is especially dangerous for children, the elderly, and people with asthma.

"'Pierce County is the only county in the state facing this problem, but since local air authorities are bound by the state Clean Air Act, it makes sense to fix it at the legislative level,' Tharinger said. 'That’s what we do with this bill.  We fix the problem, protect people’s health, and save jobs.'"

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