Field-burning has actually been illegal in Idaho under federal law since 1993, a federal appeals court ruled today. “This decision shows that the handwriting is on the wall for field-burning in Idaho,” said David Baron, a Washington, D.C. attorney with Earthjustice, which represented Safe Air for Everyone and the American Lung Association of Idaho in the case against the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.
A unanimous three-judge panel of the 9th Circuit U.S. Court of Appeals ruled in the groups’ favor, and ordered the EPA to reconsider SAFE’s challenge to a 2005 EPA decision approving field-burning in the state. Patti Gora, executive director of Sandpoint-based SAFE, said, “The agency needs to get back to the business of protecting human health. … I hope that we can come up with a solution that is reasonable and works for people, so that they really don’t have to get in any more car crashes or be taken to the hospital or miss work or flee their homes. It’s really a good day for those people who have worked long and hard and given so much to bring this to the attention of the folks that it needed to get to.”
The court ruled that Idaho’s state plan for implementing the federal Clean Air Act permitted agricultural field-burning when it originally was written in 1972, but deleted that section in amendments approved in 1993. The EPA approved amendments to Idaho’s state plan in 2005 clearly legalizing and regulating field-burning, and SAFE challenged the decision. The agency said field-burning had been legal all along in the state, and the plan change was merely a clarification.
Not so, the court found. The justices ruled that Idaho’s state plan – which has “the force and effect of federal law” – clearly “did not permit field burning” all those years. “We’re obviously disappointed in the decision, and we’ll be reviewing it to determine what our course of action is,” said Toni Hardesty, director of the state Department of Environmental Quality. Read the full story here.