L.A. wintertime weather pattern prompts ‘no-burn’ alert and who’s minding your chimney?

According to Los Angeles Times correspondent Catherine Saillant in “Air quality agency issues Southland no-burn alert,” the South Coast Air Quality Management District (AQMD) on Saturday, Nov. 24th issued its “first-ever no-burn alert” in the L.A. air basin, all because of an expected wintertime weather pattern.

View of Los Angeles, California taken from space
View of Los Angeles, California taken from space

“It’s part of a new program adopted by the South Coast Air Quality Management District to cut down on the release of harmful wood smoke, said Sam Atwood, an agency spokesman,” Saillant wrote, adding, “The air pollution regulator expects about 10 to 15 alerts each year, Atwood said.”

In directly citing Atwood, Saillant wrote: “‘Over 1 million homes actively use fireplaces to burn wood in Los Angeles,’ he said. ‘That results in four times the particulate pollution created by all of the power plants in the basin.’”

Imagine the gravity of a million-plus fireplaces all going at the same time. Yuck!

Saillant reported also that the first violation results in a $50 fine, that attendance in a “wood-smoke awareness session” could possibly be required and fines for subsequent violations rise (incrementally, I presume) up to $500 max.

It sounds like the AQMD is serious. But in looking for and identifying violations for a million-plus homes outfitted with active fireplaces, the AQMD would definitely have its work cut out.

Always looking for solutions, upon reading the August 2009 issue of Smithsonian magazine, I found this:

“John B. Henry was hiking in Maine’s Acadia National Park one August in the 1980s when he first heard his friend C. Boyden Gray talk about cleaning up the environment by letting people buy and sell the right to pollute,” Richard Conniff wrote in his article “The Political History of Cap and Trade.”

I did read “people,” right?

In leapfrogging back to the L.A. Times story, I’m now thinking: Realistically, how many no-burn violators will be caught and fined? And for repeat offenders, will they be monitored to spot repeat offenses and, if so, how?

Leapfrogging back to the Smithsonian article, Conniff wrote:

“Near the end of the intramural debate over the policy, one critical change took place. The EPA’s previous experiments with emissions trading had faltered because they relied on a complicated system of permits and credits requiring frequent regulatory intervention. Sometime in the spring of 1989, a career EPA policy maker named Brian McLean proposed letting the market operate on its own. Get rid of all that bureaucratic apparatus, he suggested. Just measure emissions rigorously, with a device mounted on the back end of every power plant, and then make sure emissions match up with allowances at the end of the year. It would be simple and provide unprecedented accountability.”

“Simple”? Really!

Thinking what I’m thinking?

Okay. So did this idea and practice pan out? Apparently, it did – in Europe, anyway.

Staying with the Conniff piece:

“Following the American example with acid rain, Europe now relies on cap-and-trade to help about 10,000 large industrial plants find the most economical way of reducing their global warming emissions. If Congress approves such a system in this country—the House had approved the legislation as we went to press—it could set emissions limits on every fossil-fuel power plant and every manufacturer in the nation.”

If I understand what was conveyed here, the takeaway is: there is the presumption that what could work for manufacturers and utilities could likewise work for consumers albeit on a considerably smaller scale, I’m guessing? For multiple-repeat offenders who are caught, they could pay for the installation and maintenance of chimney-smoke monitors provided they are available given they’re likely going to be shelling out big bucks anyway. As a matter of fact, I could envision these devices working similar in principle to electric and gas smart meters even, in that they would have the built-in capability of reporting violations both automatically and remotely. Anyone tries to tamper with such there could be an app for that. Sure would make AQMD’s enforcement work a whole lot less complicated.

Anyway, it’s a thought.

Image above: NASA

– Alan Kandel