The Otter administration pulled off a major coup last week when bluegrass farmers and environmentalists cit a deal that could allow field-burning again as early as this summer and will ensure that air quality is protected.
There are still a lot of hoops that the state has to jump through before field burning will again be allowed. A year ago, a federal appeals court ruled in favor of Safe Air For Everybody, a Sandpoint physicians group, that the EPA improperly approved the state’s field-burning program and farmers were forced to quit burning.
But Celia Gould, Idaho Agriculture Chief and Toni Hardesty, Administrator of the Idaho Department of Environmental Quality, brought the two sides into mediation with Duke University professor Francis McGovern, the man who negotiated the Nez Perce water rights agreement.
They met all fall and cut a deal in December according to the Bonner County Daily Bee.
The centerpiece of the deal is that field burning will now be regulated by the Idaho Department of Environmental Quality instead of the Idaho Department of Agriculture.
Prior to Gould’s tenure, the Ag agency treated Safe Air for Everyone with distain, essentially leaving them out of the process. The agency, with the support of the Legislature, even kept the locations of burning fields secret, which will end with the settlement. Safe Air for Everyone had tried to get a negotiated settlement as far back as 2002 but were ignored and delittled by farmers until they won their case last January.
The outcome will have ramifications statewide. DEQ must set up a statewide smoke-management program with public health the clear priority.
If air pollution levels exceed 75 percent of federal health standards burning will have to stop. The state also will have to spend more to analyze the effects of burning on air quality.
Otter’s two cabinet secretaries backed by the governor, showed courage last year when they didn’t try to reverse the decision and instead pushed for deal. Watch and see if they can do it again on one of the other dicey ag-environmental disputes, regulation of feedlots.