Air regulations should be lifted during cost crisis

Freedom Newspapers

Anybody else smell what we smell?

It’s that time of year when the evocative aroma of wood smoke can be detected wafting through many area neighborhoods. And this year that smell could be a bit stronger, as high heating bills have residents turning to wood stoves and fireplaces to keep their homes cozy.

But that means there’s a hint of something else in the air as well — the smell of new regulations coming down the chimney, as government uses clean air laws to curb the burning of firewood. And that really stinks, as far as we’re concerned.

We caught a whiff of it in a story published Tuesday in USA Today: “Hidden costs of wood burning: pollution.” There’s nothing like a news story like that, and the copycat stories that will surely follow, to get the regulators’ juices flowing.

“As soaring prices for oil and natural gas drive more Americans toward alternative fuels to stay warm this winter, environmental watchdogs are awakening to the unhealthy effects of the pollution from burning wood in the home,” the newspaper reports. And when the “environmental watchdogs” are awakened and unleashed, watch out — it’s only a matter of time before they’ll be baying for additional controls on the burning of wood, and taking another bite out of the consumer’s pocketbook.

You can run but you can’t hide from the government regulators. They’ve already done their part to create a regulatory climate in the United States that is driving the cost of oil, natural gas and even coal out of sight. But when Americans turn to old-fashioned wood for relief, there the regulators are again, ready to spring into action. No matter which way one turns, they are in hot pursuit.

The Environmental Protection Agency estimates that wood stoves and chimneys account for only about 5 percent of particulate pollution in the country, according to the story. But because industrial sources are being cracked down on, “residential wood smoke becomes a very important source of (particulate) pollution,” one top agency official told the paper. No mention was made of whether he was salivating.

All the concern being expressed by federal, state and local officials is just the prelude to the next step — an across-the-board crackdown on those who burn wood to keep themselves and their families warm. But because government has had a hand in creating this situation, government should refrain from taking advantage of these circumstances to increase its authority and power.

In recognition of the energy cost crisis, President Bush should temporarily waive federal clean air regulations, which frequently are the driving force behind state and local wood-burning regulations. When costs for cleaner-burning alternatives come down, if they ever do, the regs can be reinstated.

Yes, that could mean a temporary increase in the amount of particulate matter released into the atmosphere — but probably no more so that what the world’s volcanos spew out in a single day. Something has to give, and that something is heavy-handed government.

Americans deserve a break — not just from high energy prices, but from the baying pack of reflexive regulators who help keep prices high.