Is EPA looking to steal the sizzle from backyard barbecues?

Is EPA looking to steal the sizzle from backyard barbecues?

There are, of course, the highly anticipated starts to the baseball, football and basketball seasons. But I’d venture that the most eagerly anticipated season in 2015 just might be grilling season. I say that because this winter, which ends Friday, was unseasonably cold nationally with some areas seeing record snowfalls. Folks need a break from the cabin fever.

There's nothing like the enjoyment of the outdoors that comes with spring and the warmer temps, new foliage and green grass. Plus, there’s nothing like the sight, smell and sound of juicy steaks, kabobs, pork chops, chicken breasts, etc., - marinated, sauced or rubbed and sizzling on the outdoor grill.

Into this idyllic musing, however, steps the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). News broke recently that EPA is providing $15,000 in funding for a University of California-Riverside (UCR) project to limit emissions that result from grilling meat in backyard barbecues.

The project, entitled “Technology for the Reduction of Particulate Matter Emissions for Residential Propane BBQs,” has a stated aim to: “research and develop preventative technology that will reduce fine particulate emissions from residential barbecues. This technology is intended to reduce air pollution as well as health hazards in Southern California, with potential for global application.”

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EPA says it isn’t interested in regulating backyard family barbecues, but at least one legislator is having none of it. “The idea that the EPA wants to find their way into our backyards, where we’re congregating with our neighbors, having a good time, on the 4th of July, barbecuing pork, steak or hamburgers, is ridiculous and it’s emblematic of agency that’s sort of out of control,” says State Senator Eric Schmitt from St. Louis, MO.

In fact, Schmitt has instituted what he calls, a “pork, steak rebellion on Twitter (#porksteakrebellion), to dispel any EPA notions about messing with Americans’ backyard barbecues. He’s also encouraging Americans to fire up their grills in protest this week.

The EPA grant is part of the National Student Design Competition for Sustainability Focusing on People, Prosperity and the Planet. The UCR study is looking at the particulate emissions breathed in when grilling over an open flame, and how to minimize those emissions. Its concept includes a drip tray to capture grease, which can overheat and flare up during the grilling process. Of course, as the study proposal states, “100% prevention is not practical, therefore a secondary filtration system is proposed to mitigate the remaining aerosol and particulate matter formed.

“This secondary air filtration system is composed of a single pipe duct system, which contains a specialized metal filter, a metal fan blade, a drive shaft, and an accompanying power system with either a motorized or manual method. This system can be powered by either an exterior electric motor with a chain-driven drive shaft, directly spinning the fan blade, or a hand-powered crank," the proposal says.

“The catalytic treatment system will include a cylindrical housing with multiple honeycomb shaped filters coated with catalytic material to break down volatized organic matter. A filtration method will include multi-stage filters going from greater to smaller pore sizes to avoid quick clogging.”

I’m having a hard time envisioning the look and function of these mechanics - some kind of a Rube Goldberg-style monstrosity attached to my Weber comes to mind. However, it will be interesting to see what the UCR students devise in the end - the project's period runs from August 2014 to August 2015.

I guess we can take EPA at its word that the agency isn’t interested in regulating backyard barbecues, but it wasn’t that long ago that EPA was considering regulating ag dust. Or how about EPA's feverish efforts to "clarify" the definition for “waters of the U.S.,” which many say would extend the agency's reach to ditches and mud puddles.

So maybe a little suspicion is warranted, while we all enjoy the sights, sounds and flavors of grilling season 2015. Leave your thoughts on this topic in the comments section.

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