Health advocates balk at lowering air quality rules
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 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. They do not, however, oppose more flexibility for southern Idaho farmers who may need weekend burn days due to air quality conditions, Riggers said.
Patti Gora-McRavin of Safe Air For Everyone said her group would not 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 Wednesday 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.” 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, she said.
Idaho DEQ Air Quality Division Administrator 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.”
Based on the advisory group’s discussions, both Wednesday 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 rulemaking process to make changes in Idaho’s field burning rules.