Everyone deserves to breathe healthy air. This is the principle we start with when evaluating any policy or action that affects air quality. Residents across Idaho-especially children, the elderly, and those with respiratory illness-know how difficult it can be to breathe when field burning is permitted on the Rathdrum and Camas Prairies, in the Magic Valley and and across the Snake River Plain. We need to keep these vulnerable community members in the front of our minds when we consider whether it’s appropriate for state agencies to weaken protections around field burning in Idaho.

A Risky Bill

Right now, Idaho legislators are considering SB 1009, a bill that would increase field burning.  What’s especially disturbing and frustrating is that Idaho’s Department of Environmental Quality (IDEQ) is supporting the bill based on an irresponsible mindset that has gotten Idaho in trouble before-take the risky option now, deal with the repercussions later.

Why This Bill Is Risky

Particulate matter and ozone have both been proven to cause health problems, especially in children, the elderly, and people with respiratory problems. The higher the levels of particulate matter and ozone in the air, the more likely it is for Idahoans to experience respiratory problems.  Burning fields produces high levels of particulate matter, which is why field burning has historically been limited to times when levels of particulate matter and ozone are low.

The bill now under consideration would relax the limits on ozone, making it possible to burn fields and dump particulate matter into the air even on days when people may already be having trouble to breathe because ozone levels are high. Proponents of the bill often argue that relaxing the limits on ozone is okay  because scientists do not yet know how ozone and particulate matter interact. Rather than study and evaluate whether ozone exacerbates the harm that particulate matter causes, IDEQ has instead decided to risk more field burning now and deal with the repercussions later. Unfortunately, this type of decision has a long and sad history in Idaho of getting people hurt-remember how well it worked out when our elected and administrative officials decided to take risks on lead years ago?

The IDEQ’s approach and the proposed bill are reckless and irresponsible. If you have children, this bill risks their health. If you’re elderly, this bill risks your health. If you suffer from respiratory illness, this bill risks making your illness even worse.

The bill has already been passed by  the Idaho  Senate and is awaiting action on the House floor. Public health and environmental groups, including ICL, proposed a compromise that  would have maintained the amount of burning that’s currently allowed, not increased it. The IDEQ rejected that compromise. The IDEQ should know better-clean air doesn’t come from taking risks and relaxing the rules.

What You Can Do

This sort of legislation can move  fast, so it’s critical that we all keep up to date  of what’s coming down the pike. ICL  Government Relations Director Jonathan Oppenheimer makes this easy by tracking state legislation, so our members are informed and ready to support or oppose bills impacting Idaho’s environment. We appreciate your engagement and hope you will continue it by checking in regularly on our bill tracking webpage here. To make it even easier, you can sign up for our legislative update emails on our homepage at www.idahoconservation.org.