BOISE – Possible changes to Idaho’s field-burning regulations still are up in the air after an advisory panel of farmers, health advocates and regulators agreed that some weekend burning could be considered, but they couldn’t reach a consensus on whether to allow more burning when ozone pollution levels are high.
Nathan Riggers, president of the Nezperce Prairie Grass Growers Association, said farmers in his area typically don’t burn on weekends because the public expects them not to and they’re able to accomplish all their field-burning on weekdays. But he said they don’t oppose more flexibility for southern Idaho farmers who may need weekend burn days because of air quality conditions.
Patti Gora-McRavin of Safe Air For Everyone said her group wouldn’t oppose some weekend burning if a two-day break could still be given from burning each week, and if it wouldn’t disrupt North Idaho tourism or other activities.
But the sides diverged today on dropping air-quality standards for field-burning. While growers from around the state said they’d trust the state Department of Environmental Quality, which is proposing the possible change, health advocates weren’t convinced.
“It’s a life-and-death issue for us,” Gora-McRavin said. “It is the line in the sand.” She said her group, which advocates for people with respiratory difficulties and won a federal lawsuit shutting down field-burning in Idaho until the state’s new regulatory system was set up, likely would sue if the state went ahead with that change.
Idaho DEQ official Martin Bauer said it might not be worth changing the no-weekends rule without also relaxing the ozone pollution standard, because “we’re not getting a whole lot more days to burn.” He said Southern Idaho has areas where ozone levels are often too high to allow field-burning under current standards.
Based on the advisory group’s discussions, both today and in an all-day meeting last month, Bauer will present a recommendation to Idaho DEQ Director Curt Fransen, who will decide in late May whether to launch a negotiated rule-making process to make changes in Idaho’s field-burning rules.