Groups File Opening Brief in Challenge to Idaho Field Burning

Controversial farming practice pollutes air, threatens public health


Patti Gora, Safe Air for Everyone (SAFE) (208) 301-2828
Kristen Boyles, Earthjustice (206) 343-7340 x33
Carrie Nyssen, American Lung Association (206) 441-5100

Conservation and public health groups will today file their opening brief in a lawsuit challenging EPA’s decision to allow field burning of crop residue in Idaho. The agency relaxed clean air protections in Idaho when it allowed field burning to continue, said representatives of Safe Air for Everyone (SAFE) and the American Lung Association of Idaho, who are represented by Earthjustice in the litigation. A copy of the brief is available here

“By allowing field burning in Idaho, EPA is making huge steps backwards in terms of protecting air quality for all state residents,” said Patti Gora, Executive Director at SAFE. “These field burns create towers of smoke that can drift for miles from the burn sites. Hospitals and schools have reported ventilation systems being inundated with smoke. Children and the elderly are at especially serious risk for exposure to harmful levels of soot and particulate matter.”

Over 500 physicians from the Inland Northwest have signed a petition calling for an end to grass burning due to its dangers to public health. Smoke plumes are at times so thick that visibility along roads and highways is near zero; smoke from field burning has been linked to vehicle accidents. Firefighters are called out to control blazes that can rapidly become a threat to nearby homes, businesses and farms. Flames and burning embers also threaten nearby homes.

“EPA failed the people of Idaho when it decided to allow field burning to continue,” said Earthjustice attorney Kristen Boyles. “The Clean Air Act requires specific reductions in pollution and a state plan that will improve air quality, but EPA refused to even look at the impact of field burning on the air people breathe.”

Today’s brief will be filed in the United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit (Case No. 05-75269).

Oregon and Washington grass seed farmers have successfully switched to other methods of crop care, such as crew cutting the grass close to the crown of the plant, and baling of straw to sell as livestock feed. While Idaho farmers continually argue that field burning is necessary to farm grass seed, farmers in other states have repeatedly shown that far less polluting methods are effective and affordable.

Field burning in Idaho is detrimental to air quality and can pose serious threats to those living with cystic fibrosis, asthma, or other respiratory diseases and heart disease. Burning in northern Idaho threatens hundreds of thousands of residents and leads to increased doctor and emergency room visits.

“People already facing difficulties breathing because of existing illnesses find it even tougher when field burning happens,” said Carrie Nyssen of the American Lung Association. “Allowing smoke and fine particles to travel from open field burns only worsens many Idahoans’ respiratory illnesses. Emergency room visits increase and workdays are lost as a result of poor air quality. EPA needs to do a better job of ensuring that Idaho follows the law and approves a clean air plan that actually improves overall air quality.”  

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