Lawsuit Filed Against EPA for Allowing Field Burning in Idaho

Groups say smoke threatens public health


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

Public health groups today filed suit in federal court challenging a U.S. EPA decision to legalize open burning of crop residue in Idaho. The groups contend that EPA’s action threatens public health throughout northern Idaho and violates the Clean Air Act.

Earthjustice filed the suit on behalf of Safe Air for Everyone (SAFE) and the American Lung Association of Idaho due to concerns about thick plumes of smoke that threaten homes, hospitals, and schools during field burning season. The groups contend that children with asthma and cystic fibrosis, along with seniors with respiratory problems are often at greatest risk, and sometimes are even forced to flee their homes to escape choking walls of smoke.

“Field burning is a major public health threat in northern Idaho,” said Patti Gora, Executive Director of SAFE. “People’s lungs are at risk because of smoke that can travel for miles from a single burn, and sometimes sets off smoke alarms inside homes. We actually have over 500 physicians on record from the Inland Northwest who have signed a letter calling for an end to grass field burning due to it’s danger to public health. These include physicians in both Washington and Idaho who serve the areas affected by grass field burning.”

The Associated Press reported in September 2004 that a fatal car accident near Idaho Falls might have been attributed to nearly zero visibility due to a huge smoke plume from a field burn near Interstate 15. There have also been reports of flames from field burns threatening homes. Local residents have complained that Bonner General Hospital’s ventilation system has been overwhelmed with smoke from these fires.

The suit challenges EPA’s approval of an amendment that exempts field burning from a general ban on open burning in Idaho’s federally required clean air plan. Prior to the EPA action, Earthjustice had threatened to sue several northern Idaho farmers for violating the open burning ban.

“Instead of protecting people and improving air quality, EPA took a giant step backwards and relaxed clean air protections in Idaho,” said Kristen Boyles, an Earthjustice attorney. “The agency ignored the pleas of residents of northern Idaho who are tired of getting sick from an outdated farming practice, and instead approved an exemption that benefits a few politically connected farm businesses.”

Many grass seed farmers in eastern Washington and Oregon have stopped field burning and switched to other methods of crop care, including strip tillage, baling off straw to sell as livestock feed, and herbicide applications.

“Creating a loophole and allowing additional field burns will not solve this problem,” said Carrie Nyssen of the American Lung Association. “There are alternatives that will allow farmers to continue their businesses and let all of us breathe cleaner air.”

A copy of the petition challenging Idaho field burning can be found here.


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