BOISE – The Environmental Protection Agency has signed off on Idaho’s plan for overseeing field burning in North Idaho, clearing the way for bluegrass farmers to resume the annual process as early as September after a one-year hiatus.
The state submitted the new plan this year after negotiations among state environmental officials, farmers and public health activists. The agency’s approval means the plan complies with the federal Clean Air Act. The issue has frustrated farmers and angered activists who said field burning threatened the health of children, elderly residents and people with respiratory ailments.
The rule will become effective Aug. 31, meaning farmers could begin seeking state permits and torching their fields Sept. 2.
For decades, North Idaho bluegrass growers have set their fields aflame after harvest to clear crop residue and recharge the soil. But burning was outlawed after the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ruled in January 2007 that the air quality rules initially approved by the EPA did not allow burning and that subsequent clarifications in Idaho’s rules to allow burning were legally flawed.
The new plan shifts oversight of field burning from the state Department of Agriculture to the DEQ. It also grants the DEQ authority to withdraw burning permits to adjust for weather, gives the public access to permit data, and toughens standards for burning near schools and hospitals.
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