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Alaska Editorial: Amend, don't repeal: Wood stove exchange effort should continue

Posted: November 11, 2012 - 1:07am

This editorial first appeared in the Fairbanks Daily News-Miner:

The Borough Assembly’s agenda Thursday features an ordinance that would repeal much of the wood stove removal and replacement program the borough has been operating with state money. Passage of the ordinance would be too hasty; an amended version would be advisable.

Understandably, the mayor introduced the ordinance after voters passed Proposition 3 in early October. The proposition said the borough cannot “regulate, prohibit or curtail ... the sale, distribution or operation of heating appliances or any type of combustible fuel.”

The borough’s removal and replacement programs come with some regulations designed to prevent fraudulent exploitation of the program. The borough administration concluded that the proposition’s passage had outlawed those regulations. Without those regulations, it announced, the program likely wouldn’t pass muster with the state funding agency and so the effort would be shut down.

Last week, though, borough air quality officials reported to the assembly that the state is still open to funding the program. That takes away the need to immediately shut it down.

In addition, it’s reasonable to ask whether the ordinances that created the program need be repealed entirely. There seems to be some room for amendment.

The assembly should consider the current rules in the context of what the administration did after passage, in 2010, of the original proposition intended to curtail the borough’s foray into the wood stove-control business. That proposition, while less comprehensively worded that this year’s version, declared that “the borough shall not ban, prohibit, or fine residents for the use of home heating devices.”

Yet, even after that proposition’s passage, the borough continued with some fairly intrusive regulations. The administration concluded that while it could not ban or prohibit home heating devices, it could ban the installation of certain such devices. That might seem to be legalistic hair-splitting, but it stuck. So the borough, for the past two years in the core populated area, has prohibited the installation of heating devices that don’t meet emission standards.

With that history in mind, consider the proposition that borough voters approved last month. It says the borough cannot regulate “the sale, distribution or operation” of heating appliances. Note that it does not ban the borough from regulating their “installation,” just as it has been doing for the past two years under the terms of the previous proposition.

The borough, using the same reasoning it employed before, could continue to regulate this aspect of heating devices. It could still assert the authority to set conditions on the installation of heating devices for which the state grant is paying.

Those rules are needed for an effective program that discourages abuse. They require a person who removes a heating device with financial help from the borough to sign a deed restriction prohibiting the installation of any other solid-fuel burning stove in the home for 10 years. Also, according to borough ordinance, anyone who removes or replaces a solid-fuel burning heater with borough assistance must “fully comply with the inspection process required by the (air quality) division.”

The borough should try to keep some form of replacement and removal program on the books in the interest of creating a plan to satisfy federal air quality mandates. The program won’t do the job by itself, but it will help, and we need all the help we can get.

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