Court Faults EPA Approval of Field Burning in Idaho


Grass burning sends unhealthy levels of smoke, soot into homes and communities


David Baron, Earthjustice, (202) 667-4500

A federal court today agreed with public health and environmental groups that a U.S. EPA decision to allow open grass field burning in Idaho was legally flawed. The ruling came in response to a lawsuit by Earthjustice, on behalf of the Idaho-based group Safe Air For Everyone (SAFE) and the American Lung Association of Washington, challenging a 2005 EPA decision to allow field burning statewide.

“This ruling is a victory for clean air,” said Earthjustice attorney David Baron. “The smoke from field burning is so thick it sends people to the hospital and forces people out of their homes.”

Even though physicians and doctors in the area have called for an end to open field burning because of its severe health impacts, EPA’s 2005 decision allowed the practice to continue. Washington successfully banned all grass burning in 1998 with no loss to production, but Idaho still allows thousands of acres to be burned every year. Some of the most intensive burning occurs in northern Idaho, particularly in Kootenai and Benewah counties.

Today’s ruling by the U.S. Court of Appeals, Ninth Circuit (Case no. 05-75269) agrees with environmentalists and public health advocates, who argued that the EPA’s approval of field burning in Idaho was illegal. “We hold that as it presently stands, EPA’s approval is legally unsustainable,” said the court.  The court said that “federal law banned field burning in Idaho prior to EPA’s 2005 approval,” and that EPA was therefore wrong in claiming that its approval of the practice did not change anything. 

“Open field burning puts an extraordinary burden upon Idahoans forced to breathe this dirty air,” said Patti Gora, Executive Director for SAFE. “These burns consistently send people to the hospital with respiratory problems, impair visibility on the roads, and invade our homes and communities with smoke and soot. We are pleased with the court’s decision and hope EPA will now move immediately to protect Idaho residents from this dangerous threat.” 

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