Washington’s air pollution appeals board has upheld a state emergency rule slashing bluegrass field burning by 33 percent this year.
The Pollution Control Hearings Board refused to grant a Whitman County farmer a stay of the rule that applies to nearly 60,000 acres of Kentucky bluegrass statewide.
The rule is valid and the pollution board lacks the authority to overturn it, board members said Wednesday in a written order.
The decision comes just before the annual fieldburning ritual, scheduled to start Aug. 1 in Spokane County.
Washington Department of Ecology Director Mary Riveland announced the emergency rule in March, saying Spokane doctors convinced her a cutback is necessary to protect public health.
Garfield farmer Stewart Pfaff of Circle P Inc. challenged the rule, saying it interferes with his livelihood.
Pfaff also said the ruling will increase soil erosion in the Palouse when he’s forced to tear out the portions of his crop that he can’t burn.
On May 9, Whitman County denied Pfaff a permit to burn all of his 195 acres of bluegrass.
Pfaff’s attorney also argued that farmers’ safety will be endangered when they are forced to use unsuitable equipment to remove bluegrass stubble on steep slopes.
Farmers’ safety and welfare “far outweighs the interest of the public in being protected from the particulate matter…from grass field-burning smoke,” said attorney Ted Rasmussen of Tekoa, Wash., who is also a bluegrass grower.
Ecology’s top air quality official in Eastern Washington applauded the pollution board’s decision.
“This is good news. It means we can go ahead with the rule statewide,” said Grant Pfeifer.
Some of the growers’ arguments in seeking the stay were “incredible,” Pfeifer said.
“Their opening statements hint that a farmer’s ability to make a living is a greater public interest than the health of a community,” he said.
Pfaff and Rasmussen could not be reached for comment Wednesday.
Later this week, Ecology will extend the emergency rule, which expires July 27, for another 120 days to cover this year’s field-burning season.
The agency also is preparing a permanent rule to ban most field burning within three years.
The permanent rule must go to public hearings and is expected to be challenged by a coalition of farm interests in next year’s state Legislature.
The legal battles over the burning ban also may not be over. The permanent rule can be challenged in Superior Court, the pollution board noted.