Field Burning Plan Heading To EPA For Approval

RATHDRUM PRAIRIE, ID. — Field burning may soon return to the Rathdrum Prairie after Idaho Governor Butch Otter signed a bill Friday that could reverse a court ban on field burning.

The bill is part of a plan the state of Idaho will soon submit to the Environmental Protection Agency, which will have the final say on field burning in Idaho.

Signs of spring are popping up and the snow is slowly melting and Wayne Meyer is anxious to get back in the field. Meyer planted and harvested blue grass for decades, but he switched crops to wheat last year when the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals ruled field burning was illegal. With no field burning, blue grass just wasn’t an option.

“It was kinda hard to go out and plow it all out but we had no choice,” Meyer said.

For the past year, health advocates, the Department of Environmental Quality and farmers have been working to negotiate a new state field burning plan. Meyer represented the farmers.

“In negotiations nobody gets exactly what they want but we both gave up a little but to get to this point,” he said.

Meyer says the farmers wanted the Department of Agriculture to continue overseeing the burns. Now it will be the Department of Environmental Quality.

Under the new law a burn permit will be issued based on several criteria such as the weather and expected emissions. The DEQ will also look at the proximity to schools, hospitals, nursing homes and public roadways.

If a burn is approved the DEQ will post all of the information on its website so neighbors can plan ahead. If particle matter, known to carry carcinogens, reach above a certain level all burning will stop. The level they negotiated in Idaho is lower than the federal standard.

Meyer hopes to burn a few hundred acres of the remaining bluegrass by this fall right after he harvests his hard red spring wheat.

“It’s been frustrating but the price of what will make the transition somewhat easier,” Meyer said.

The plan now has to be approved by the EPA and that process will include a public comment period. The EPA isn’t expected to make a decision until this fall which means field burning on the Rathdrum Prairie won’t start up again until at least 2009.