Utah offered nearly $13 million in federal cash to address stubborn wood smoke problem

(Steve Griffin | Tribune file photo) Sugar House resident Scott Thomas, shown with his clean-burning Lipo Parlor wood stove in 2015. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency announced Wednesday that Utah will receive nearly $13 million for Provo, Salt Lake City and Logan, to fund exchange programs for inefficient wood-burning devices and take other steps in hopes of improving air quality.

Utahns who still burn wood at home may soon get paid to stop.

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency announced on Wednesday that Utah is one of three states that will receive grants to address long-standing air quality concerns. Utah will receive a total of nearly $13 million; the remainder of the $30 million in grants will go to California and Alaska.

Utah’s share of the money will be divided among Provo, Salt Lake City and Logan, according to the EPA’s announcement. Provo and Salt Lake will receive just over $3 million apiece to create an exchange program for wood-burning appliances. Logan will get almost $6.5 million, with half to be devoted to a wood-burning stove exchange and half toward replacing old diesel trucks with newer models.

“We are pleased to receive these airshed grants, which will supplement our continuing efforts to protect public health by improving air quality,” Alan Matheson, executive director of the Utah Department of Environmental Quality, said in a written statement.

“The work funded by these grants will go a long way to reduce pollution in Utah communities from wood burning and diesel equipment,” Matheson said.

Although news of the grant comes just a day after the EPA made public its decision to list parts of seven Utah counties as violating a new federal standard for ozone, this latest funding appears to target Utah’s decadelong struggle with another air pollutant — small particulates.

Logan and Provo are on the cusp of finally achieving federal standards for small particulates, which accumulate on the Wasatch Front in the winter during inversions. But state scientists are still trying to devise a strategy that would clean up the wintertime air in Salt Lake City.

Utah must have that plan by December 2019 to avoid regulatory penalties from the EPA.

Wood smoke is thought to generate 16 percent of Utah’s small-particulate pollution, but the Utah Legislature barred the state Division of Air Quality (DAQ) from banning wood-burning devices in 2015 after a proposed rule that would have prohibited burning drew public blowback.

In 2017, Utah lawmakers state passed another law to permanently exempt wood fires used for cooking from regulation, leaving the DAQ with the current system of periodic no-burn days.

And officials have struggled to enforce even those restrictions, due in part to difficulties in verifying public complaints.

The nonprofit Utah Clean Air Partnership launched a wood-stove exchange last year using private funds, but was only able to make 80 vouchers for new natural gas fireplaces and inserts available — and those vouchers were claimed in the program’s first week.