Canterbury Regional Council's looming ban on older log burners has ignited anger in Timaru, with claims council staff are checking on homes with smoking chimneys.
More than 200 locals attended a meeting on Sunday demanding answers from council staff over the move to ban log burners more than 15 years old.
Environment Canterbury (ECan) is trying to reduce Timaru's air pollution to three high-pollution nights every winter - though that has already doubled this year.
Resident and meeting organiser Doug Cleveland said ECan was bullying residents into purchasing $5500 log burners.
"They're going around at night in cars with torches to see if someone's chimney is smoking," he said. "This is terrible."
He said the ban was not going to solve the problem.
"A lot of people in Timaru have replaced their old log burners, and the new ones are worse than old ones that they had," he said.
Greypower national chairperson Tom O'Connor, who lives in the Timaru area, said ECan was trying to fix the problem, but it had presented no evidence that old burners were causing air pollution.
"They say they have the science to show that, but I've asked for that science and haven't received it. You cannot say all log burners over 15 years old are inefficient," he said.
In the Timaru clean air zone, people can use older, low-emission burners for up to 15 years or until 1 January 2019, whichever is later. But older style wood burners that don't meet emission standards have to be upgraded.
ECan air quality director Katherine Trought agreed some older log burners were not causing problems, but said the bigger picture of air pollution was more important.
"You don't have a lot of choices. You either reduce the smoke coming out of chimneys, or you stop the smoke coming out of chimneys," she said.
Subsidies for new log burners were available for people who could not cover the cost of a new one, although she said there could have been better communication from ECan from the start.
Sunday's meeting resulted in the formation of an eight-person committee, made up of residents with the aim of finding a different way to address air pollution.
Ms Trought said ECan would work with the newly-formed committee but there would be no negotiation on the new log burner rules.
"We're trying to be as helpful and supportive as we can while recognising that change has to happen, and change isn't easy for the community, especially ... if there is a financial cost," she said.
Last year, the World Health Organisation named Timaru as having the worse air pollution in Oceania.