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EPA Honors Ecology for Agricultural Burning Efforts

Release Date: 3/20/2003
Contact Information: Scott Downey
(206) 553-0682

March 20, 2003

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) today honored the Washington State Department of Ecology (Ecology) for its Agricultural and Outdoor Burning Notification and Information System, a program developed to ensure that smoke from agricultural burning does not harm the health of Eastern Washington residents. At a ceremony in Washington, D.C., EPA Administrator Christine Todd Whitman presented the Clean Air Excellence Award to Kary Peterson, Sara Johnson, Kathy Sundberg, and Judy Beitel of the Department of Ecology.

Ecology was nominated for the award by the Washington Association of Wheat Growers, many of whose members burn wheat stubble.

Winners of the awards have directly or indirectly reduced emissions of criteria pollutants or hazardous/toxic air pollutants – in this case particulate matter; demonstrated innovation and uniqueness; provided a model for others to follow; and have brought about positive outcomes that are sustainable.

"The wheat growers are proud to have nominated Ecology for this award and are doubly proud that they've won it," said Perry Dozier, past president of the Washington Association of Wheat Growers. "They deserve the award because for years the parties had been at an impasse, yet Ecology found a positive path forward for everyone.

"The department did an outstanding job working with the wheat growers and the Save Our Summers people by reaching out and developing close working relationships among all sides. These relationships enabled everyone to offer constructive criticism to one another and to truly communicate. Ultimately, this is how we have helped solve tough problems rather than create them."

Patti Gora, who is a board member of Save Our Summers a Washington-based group dedicated to eliminating burning's affect on people's health, said, “We commend Ecology’s efforts because we went from having total opposition to total cooperation. Due to Ecology’s efforts, this year for the very first year, people with respiratory illnesses were not sickened or forced to flee their homes.
“They’ve shown that taking care of public health does not have to mean elimination of burning as a tool,” continued Gora, who is also the Executive Director of Safe Air for Everyone (SAFE). “Rather, they’ve shown that close regulation of burning provides a safety-net for all stakeholders.”

The Ecology program consists of a Web site to provide access to information on agricultural and outdoor burning -- including a next-day burn forecast so people can plan their activities accordingly. The program also includes a partnership with KXLY-TV in Spokane and KVEW in the Tri-Cities to air the burn forecast and publicize the Web-site during the weather segment.

Not only does Ecology's Web site show how many acres will be burned and where and when it will occur, it also provides farmers with information on Best Management Practices (BMPs) for emission reductions. Agricultural burn permits and residential burning information also are included.

Ecology’s efforts have been an unqualified success. In 1998, Ecology fielded 49 complaints about smoke from field burning. In 2002 they received nine.

The EPA supported Ecology’s efforts with funds to help pay for increases and improvements the real-time air quality monitoring network; for smoke management program improvements such as web-based permitting and GIS mapping; for an updated Best Management Practices manual; and for a wheat stubble emission study.

John Iani, Regional Administrator for the EPA said, "Ecology won this award because they were able to address a confounding public health and policy issue when everyone else thought they were at a dead end. They reached out to everyone involved and they made partners out of historically antagonistic parties. The alliance they've created keeps the farmers in business, the public informed, and the sick protected. That's everyone's bottom line.

"Without a doubt this approach has application to similar problems facing other states."

Contact: Jani Gilbert - Ecology 509/329-3495