Citizens Rise in Opposition
to an Irresponsible Proposal
By Richard Wright
Ed. Note: On April 2, Utah Gov. Gary Herbert signed a bill prohibiting an all-out ban on wood burning. The article that follows details actions taken by the Hearth, Patio & Barbecue Association that resulted in the governor supporting the hearth industry’s position.
“I’ll give you my wood stove when you pry it from my warm, dead hands.”
Paraphrase of a slogan popularized by the National Rifle Association.
|Utah Gov. Gary Herbert.|
In December, Utah’s Department of Environmental Quality’s Division of Air Quality, began consideration of a proposal, submitted by Gov. Gary Herbert, to ban the use of all wood-burning appliances in seven of the most populated counties from November to mid-March. It would have applied to all or part of Salt Lake, Davis, Utah, Tooele, Box Elder, Cache and Weber counties.
According to John Crouch, director of Public Affairs for the Hearth, Patio & Barbecue Association (HPBA), “That was the most egregious proposal that we’ve ever faced, to ban the use of all wood-burning products for three to four months every year in major metropolitan areas.
“That was an existential kind of moment.”
|Counties that would have been affected.|
What happened next was that Crouch took the lead in formulating and implementing a plan to oppose passage of such legislation. With support from Jack Goldman, president and CEO of the association, and Ryan Carroll, director of Government Affairs, Crouch rallied an opposition force that included hundreds of citizens in the affected areas.
It was a rallying of wood-burners greater than anything seen during the 35 years the HPBA has been in existence and combating local efforts to ban wood burning. More than a thousand people attended the hearings, and an overwhelming majority was opposed to a seasonal ban.
Hearth & Home: Explain to us how you developed such a strong opposition to the Utah proposal, what you did and how it rolled out.
John Crouch: “Well, there were several key components. Once it became clear that we had to act, Ryan, Jack and I did an internal assessment and found there were several things we had going for us. First of all, it was so outrageous that there really wasn’t much to explain.
“Second, we had commitment from the local dealers and distributors. There is a great Travis Industries distributor there and a great Hearth & Home Technologies distributor; they lined up all the hearth dealers on very short notice. Everybody said, ‘Yes. We’ve got to fight this.’ So we had buy-in from the local folks.
“Jack said, ‘Do it.’ So I didn’t have to explain or deal with convincing anyone at the association. There was a lot of internal cohesion within the HPBA.
“Ryan and I went to the solid fuel manufacturers and they said, ‘Do it.’ So we worked with Stratacomm and put together a plan very quickly with finances from the solid fuel manufacturers and with a major commitment from the affiliates.
Ed. Note: Stratacomm is a strategic communications consultancy based in Washington, DC. The HPBA has worked with that organization a number of times through the years.
“We hit the ground running. Stratacomm found a very solid public relations firm in Salt Lake City and they lined up eight or nine media interviews during the first week for John Mortensen and me. John Mortensen and Randy Toupin are partners in Energy Distribution Services (Salt Lake) and long-time Travis Industries distributors.
“John and I went in and did a lot of media interviews and built a lot of awareness. On the first night, there were several hundred angry people in attendance. The second night was in Salt Lake County. It was the only one that was in the evening, in the most urban county where there was the most anti-wood-burning sentiment.
“At the end of the evening, the local Fox 13 reporter said, ‘Last night people confidently told me that the turnout would be much different in Salt Lake County. It wasn’t.’
|A crowd gathers for a public hearing in Salt Lake County.|
“There were an awful lot of people at each of the seven hearings who came out and said, ‘Look, I have a certified stove or, we bought a pellet stove and we use it a lot. We are sensitive to the no-burn regulations as they exist right now. But don’t tell us we can’t ever use our wood stove.’
“The issue was effectively pulled off the table by the state director of the Division of Air Quality during a legislative budget hearing when he essentially said, ‘We’re going to rethink this.’ But we ran a bill anyway.
“Now, here’s where it gets interesting. The bill had a couple of key provisions. There was a prohibition on the Division of Air Quality to never do this again, because just pulling it off the table still gave them authority and the power to do it again by rule-making. So our bill said, ‘Nope, never again, and you must codify a Washington State-style, two-step exemption program.’
“We got a lot of push-back at the very last minute from the large manufacturers in the state, and we had to pull that provision out of the bill.
“The refineries and other manufacturers in the state sat John Mortensen down and said, ‘This piece of it has got to go, but you can study it (they helped us put in a small authorization for money to study it in the bill), but you can’t put it in automatically because we don’t know how it will impact the air quality and we’re worried about it.’
“So we got a lesson in Utah politics in terms of how Utah is really run. But it doesn’t end there, because the bill passed, but the Governor is making noises that he may not sign it. All it does now is simply prohibit them from doing this rule again and requires them to work with us on public education.
“So it’s a fairly innocuous bill. But the key thing is we did stop the ban. That was what we set out to do at a minimum, and we weren’t sure going into it that we would be able to do it, and we did.”
How bad is the inversion in Salt Lake?
Crouch: “Inversions have been pretty tough in the last two years because of the way the western high pressures have been working. You’ve heard about droughts. Well, all the moisture has been back East. The inversions are bad, but they are not the worst in the West.”
Do you know what percent is caused by wood smoke?
Crouch: “Yes. The Department said five percent is caused by wood smoke.”
Oh, my God!
Crouch: “That’s what I said (laughs). There are many areas where the wood smoke problem is much worse.”
So it’s much ado about nothing.
Crouch: “Yes. Yes. There are six refineries in that airshed and most of them have expanded over the last couple of years. There is a coal-fired power plant just on the edge of that area and it provides electricity for a big mine, plus the vehicle miles traveled have grown exponentially. So there are all kinds of other things going on, and for them to focus on wood-burning, well – you didn’t have to be a rocket scientist to figure it out – as one person who testified said, ‘You know, you’re swatting at mosquitoes while an alligator has your leg.’”
(Laughs) That’s beautiful. So everything is in limbo until the Governor makes up his political mind.
Crouch: “Yes. We did what we had to do first, which was to stop this thing and get peoples’ attention. Even if the Governor vetoes it, we’re now in a much better position to work with the Air Quality people. There were a lot of things that really ticked the local folks off.
“Some of the public education money was spent on billboards and a TV commercial that has a Neanderthal going over to visit his girlfriend, and they light a fire in the fireplace. The tagline is, ‘Don’t be a Neanderthal. Don’t light a fire.’ That just offended people. That really, really offended people.”
But so far so good, right?
Crouch: “Right. Absolutely. Our attitude is, it’s going to become a law and stay tuned. I think it’s by April 1 that he either has to sign them, veto them or let them go into law without his signature. But we did what we needed to do and we learned a lot about the process.
“We used Facebook and a web page very effectively. Some of the money from the manufacturers went to advertising that reinforced the web page. We had over 3,000 people go to that page, fill out a form and send an e-mail to the Governor.
“To some degree it was the right place, the right time. It was Utah. This is a culture that sets a high priority on preparedness, and many people spoke to that. Many people felt very, very offended by this. One of the public hearings was held at 11 am on one of the more rural fringes of the metropolitan area, up in the northern end of the valley. The line of people stretched out the door and down the sidewalk. People had taken off work to come and express how angry they were.”
Through the years, you’ve been involved in all of the association’s work in combating the efforts of local governments to ban wood burning. Is this by far the greatest outpouring from consumers that you’ve seen?
Crouch: “Yes. There’s no question. Again, a lot of things came together here, including support from the manufacturers, good local people who put a lot of energy into it, and the manufacturers who committed the resources that allowed us to go to a firm such as Stratacomm. We hit it in a way that we have never hit a metropolitan area before. We’ve always nickeled and dimed these things, but our efforts in Salt Lake showed how it should be done.”
Can what happened in Utah be a blueprint going forward for other locations? In other words, did you learn enough there?
Crouch: “Pieces of it, yes. But the caution is – and here we’ll go back to our friend Tom (Pugh) who always reminded us – that All Politics Is Local. So sometimes the stars line up better in some places than they do in others. But certainly the social media aspects of this effort were something to remember.
“We invested in coding four websites, and I think we have people with the HPBA who could create New Hampshirites for Responsible Wood-burning, or Alabamans for Responsible Wood-burning if we had to, and on fairly short notice.
“That’s because now we’ve got the basic framework, and a lot of the staff have now seen how Stratacomm did that and, of course, the basic coding is ours. It’s our investment and we certainly have learned more about how to use Facebook.”
So Stratacomm, in your view, was well worth hiring?
Crouch: “Absolutely. In one week, Bill Buff, Stratacomm’s managing partner, came up with a plan and a budget, which he stuck to. Ryan (Carroll) called me up when he got the invoice and said, ‘Well, he came within $1.20 of his budget’ (laughs).
“Bill also said, ‘We’ll flood the zone,’ and he did flood the zone. Here’s a great one. We go out to Tooele, which is the very first hearing and it’s in the afternoon and we’re briefing the local small town newspaper gal. She is a young woman who has grown up in town, gone to BYU, and come back to town. Tooele is on the side of the mountains to the west, so it shouldn’t even really be part of the process, but it was sucked into it.
“She said, ‘Oh. In this town there will be only seven or eight people at this hearing. Most of the people here work in Salt Lake. They don’t even get home until 5 or 6 pm, so at a 4 pm hearing there will be few people.’ That was our first hearing and the one where hundreds of people turned out, and one of the TV newspeople interviewed a consumer who said. ‘My name is John and I burn wood.’ The meeting erupted in applause.
“At that point, members of our opposition kind of slunk out midway through and just gave up. On the second night in Salt Lake City, in the belly of the beast, in the most urban area, I was talking with a guy who was an architect, and his wife was also a professional. They had a certified stove for six years and loved it. They were there to argue against the proposal.
“So many people turned out who said, ‘I have a certified stove or I have a pellet stove.’ Certainly there were also many people in the more rural areas who turned out. I’ll never forget one guy. He was probably in his 30s. He said, ‘Look, I have three jobs. We live in a funky old house. Wood heats. This is not optional for us.’”
What a great experience this has been for you, right?
Crouch: “Yes, it was. I got a lot of support from HPBA, from Jack and Ryan. Seven hearings in three weeks and we nailed it!”
What’s the URL that readers can call up to see the website?
Crouch: “Just Google Utahns For Responsible Wood Burning and it will come up.”