This winter’s chilly nights lend themselves to lighting a warm fire in the hearths in our homes. Unfortunately, fireplace-loving citizens in western Solano County have been officially banned from exercising their chimney for the majority of the past month. The Bay Area Air Quality Management District’s Winter Spare the Air program is the culprit.
The district has a program whereby it declares a Spare the Air day based on a set of air quality criteria, which then encourages people to voluntarily minimize activities that create air pollution. On the surface, this seems benign, but wood-burning activities are singled out for rigid enforcement. The air district utilizes a policy of issuing tickets to all wood-burning activities, including those scofflaws who dare utilize their fireplaces for warmth on “unapproved” days.
A compelling argument could be made to crack down on folks who are burning piles of dead trees and mixed lumber, or recreating Burning Man in the dead of winter; but for basic residential fireplaces, this seems heavy-handed and overreaching. If a fireplace is your only source of heat, you will need to prove that when fighting the citation. Yes, that is correct; you will need to prove your innocence that you are not a flaming eco-terrorist.
To support the enforcement of this program, a small army of taxpayer-funded “monitors” scour portions of our county, researching the most egregious criminals infesting our society. Their findings are logged into a “wood smoke database” maintained to monitor these hooligans. However, they are merciful: if you are caught, you can attend Wood Smoke Awareness School . . . once. After that, violators face a $100 ticket, upward of $500 if they are a repeat offender.
If preventing and minimizing pollutants is the underlying goal, what about cigarette smoking? Many carcinogens are emitted from the business end of a cancer stick. Will monitors cruise our streets, aggressively handing out penalties? Should we ban drive-thrus? All those cars queued up as they wait for their triple mochachinos and double-cheesy bacon burgers spew out gobs of pollutants. Those consumers should park their cars and walk into the establishment. They would “spare the air” and get some exercise in the same trip.
Let’s not ignore the irony of paying people to drive around to investigate these “violations.” These monitors should lead by example and travel around our communities on bicycles, or at least take public transportation. Otherwise, they are just part of the problem.
For those heartless polluters who must have their fireplaces, cigarettes or drive-thru treats, can they purchase offsetting credits? They magically work for factories in California and there is plenty of empirical evidence that shows that shelling out cash for a permit to engage in unhealthy activity completely nullifies any side effects of said activity. Perhaps we can just charge it to our FasTrak account, and call it SmokStak.
Perhaps most baffling and frustrating to citizens is that our neighbors to the east, in Vacaville and beyond, are not bound by these rigid policies. Since their air is in a different district, they are covered by a separate set of guidelines. Apparently, air flow observes arbitrary boundaries created by bureaucracies. Perhaps Fairfield residents should hop in their cars and drive to Vacaville to enjoy a warm stove.
Beyond all these inconsistencies and logical fallacies, a fundamental question remains: Where is the mandate from the people that empowers this agency (and so many other acronym-laced agencies) to micromanage our lives? If we the people wish to contain, minimize or even abolish this program or this agency, what recourse do we have?
Unelected organizations consume our tax dollars and dole out numerous policies and laws with minimal input from the citizenry. This is a symptom of nonrepresentation; will we the people remain complacent?
Brian Thiemer is chairman of the Solano County Libertarian Party. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.