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Federal agency approves Idaho field burning rules

UPDATED: Fri., June 22, 2018, 12:41 p.m.

The stubble of a grain field on the Camas Prairie is burned after the harvest, producing a heavy plume of smoke Aug. 6, 2009, in Lewiston, Idaho. (Barry Kough / Lewiston Tribune)
The stubble of a grain field on the Camas Prairie is burned after the harvest, producing a heavy plume of smoke Aug. 6, 2009, in Lewiston, Idaho. (Barry Kough / Lewiston Tribune)

BOISE –Federal officials have approved Idaho’s request to loosen field burning rules.

Backers say the move offers more flexibility to keep smoke away from people but health advocates counter that it will lead to breathing problems for some residents.

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency issued a final rule this week that allows field burning in the state starting July 19.

“EPA concludes that Idaho has adequately demonstrated that it will continue to attain the (air quality standards) after raising its ozone burning threshold,” the agency said in the document.

Patti Gora-McRavin of Safe Air for Everyone didn’t respond to requests for comment.

Field burning rids fields of stubble and pests. In Idaho, it runs from March to September, with as many as 45,000 acres burned annually.

Health advocates say combining increased ozone in rural areas with particulate matter caused by field burning can trigger health problems in children, the elderly, and those with lung diseases.

Currently, farmers are allowed to burn fields when ozone levels are less than 75 percent of the EPA limit of 75 parts per billion. State officials say a proposed reduction would have eliminated as much as half of potential field burning days.

The Idaho Department of Environmental Quality said the new rules will significantly increase the number of potential field burning days, making it possible to burn on days when weather conditions will lift smoke straight up and away from people on the ground.

Tiffany Floyd, air quality division administrator at the Idaho Department of Environmental Quality, didn’t respond to a message seeking comment Friday.

Field burning was banned in Idaho in 2007 after the 9th U.S. Circuit of Appeals agreed with Safe Air for Everyone that the EPA’s approval of Idaho field burning at the time didn’t follow federal law. Safe Air documented what it said were numerous deaths due to breathing problems from field burning as well as car crashes caused by smoke limiting visibility on highways.

Field burning resumed in 2008 after Safe Air, farmers and state officials agreed on limits on when field burning could take place.


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