SodaCanyonRoad | Urgent: We all need to help clear the air in Napa County
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Urgent: We all need to help clear the air in Napa County

Mike Hackett | Apr 19, 2017 on: Napa Vision 2050

April 6, 2017: Dunaweal Lane, Calistoga - Clos Pegase/Girard field prep for new Girard Winery. Vines were pulled out just days before burn - too green and muddy. Several anonymous calls made - BAAQMD inspector halted the burn. Vines must be minimum 60-days dry. You can see the low, heavy smoke headed directly into adjacent home of elderly neighbor.

The majority of climate scientists, the 99%, and most of us in California are growing increasing concerned that we are living in a time of climate disruption. In the Napa Valley we experienced five years of mega-drought followed this year with record rain. Most significant is that 2016 was the hottest year on record, the third such year in a row. We must give our attention to our man-made climate crisis. Our elected officials at the state level appear to be taking action.

To address a strategy for tipping-point avoidance, Governor Brown signed SB-1382 in September 2016. The legislation requires, in part, a 40% reduction in methane and a 50% reduction in black carbon below 2013 levels by 2030. Methane and black carbon are two potent short-lived climate pollutants. Burning vineyard waste produces vast amounts of these toxic elements. The grape growing industry in Napa is fully aware of the problems of vineyard waste, but many in the industry are still burning their seasonally produced vine trimmings, and some are not following the requirements of the Bay Area's guidelines.

When government, industry and citizens alike recognize a pollution issue such as this, we know we're moving in the right direction. Last week, the Napa Register ran an article chronicling the Napa Valley Grape Growers formation of a Vineyard Burning Task Force aimed at raising awareness and setting best management practices to minimize the negative effect on air quality. The Grape Growers hail as their first success, a program developed to promote proper vine drying techniques. The Register article shows data that in 2016, 24,000 people suffered from diagnosed asthma in Napa County. This is certainly disturbing, but is a small subset of climate induced problems of burning vineyard waste.

Current regulations mandate a 60-day drying commitment. Burning is only allowed on "burn days" as mandated from Bay Area Air Quality District, no burning before 10 a.m., and no fuel added two hours before sunset. Failure to comply with these regulations violates governmental rules, and more seriously violates our rights. We justly deserve clean air, and when wet vines are burned, excessive smoke fills the air, our homes, our lungs and our atmosphere. If the "bad actors" are not stopped, those who properly manage their burns lose credibility and the ability to destroy disease pathogens. More seriously, those short-lived climate pollutants of methane and black carbon, which we should be drawing down, are actually increasing.

Alternately, vines can be chipped, or hauled to a landfill. Both these methods unfortunately hurt the environment. Most likely, an already existing process called fusion gasification will be used to store carbon in the earth (biochar), which greatly reduces the atmospheric carbon pollution.

We as citizens can file a complaint with the Bay Area Air Quality Management District at (800) 334-6367 toll free. This is the number to call if you see excessive smoke. All complaints are confidential.