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Field-burning bill passes unanimously

HB 557, the mediated compromise legislation on field-burning, just passed the Senate unanimously, after rules were suspended to allow it to be taken up right away. The bill now heads to Gov. Butch Otter for his signature, and the state Board of Environmental Quality is racing to meet a court deadline to approve rules for the new smoke-monitoring system required by the bill. “In 12 years of service here, this is a good day,” said Sen. Shawn Keough, R-Sandpoint. “It’s good for the people that suffer from the smoke, and it’s great for the farmers, and I applaud the effort that’s gone into getting us here.”

Field-burning has been banned in Idaho for the past year, after a federal court ruled Idaho’s field-burning regulation system illegal. Health advocates, farmers, state agencies, tribes and more helped hash out the new agreement, which allows burning to resume, but with new statewide rules, including a cutoff of burning when air pollution reaches 75 percent of standards, more monitoring of smoke and regulation by the state Department of Environmental Quality, rather than the state Agriculture Department. The bill also ends the Agriculture Department’s previous practice of treating the locations of field burns as a state secret – giving nearby residents no warning that a field was about to go up in smoke. Now, said the bill’s Senate sponsor, Sen. Steve Bair, R-Blackfoot, the state will make public, in advance, the date, location, acreage and crop type that will be burned. People with respiratory problems will be able to monitor upcoming burns on a state Web site.

Bair said since field-burning has been illegal in Idaho, there’s been a $10,000 fine for illegal burning. He said, “This is perhaps for the state of Idaho one of the most important pieces of legislation we will consider.” Sen. Jim Hammond, R-Post Falls, said, “I’m very pleased that we were able to reach a compromise and those grass growers will once again be able to have a good crop of seed. Instead of filling a lot of North Idaho farmland with houses, maybe we can keep that in agriculture.”


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Betsy Z. Russell covers Idaho news from The Spokesman-Review's bureau in Boise.

Named best state-based political blog in Idaho for 2013 by The Fix

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