Wednesday, December 21, 2016

Kansas group urges federal action to limit Flint Hills grass burning

When ranchers in the Flint Hills region of Kansas burn grasslands in the spring, people as far away as Omaha and Lincoln, Neb., know about it. Nebraska officials say the density of smoke and fine particles in the air sometimes gets so heavy that it poses a health risk to the public, especially for people with asthma or other respiratory ailments. Now, a Kansas environmental group is urging the Environmental Protection Agency to step in and order Kansas to impose tighter controls on grass burning. Earlier this week, the Kansas chapter of the Sierra Club wrote a letter to the EPA's regional administrator in Kansas City, Kan., urging the agency to order the Kansas Department of Health and Environment to adopt a mitigation plan to protect air quality in the region. But the action comes with just four weeks remaining before President-elect Donald Trump's new administration takes the reins of the federal government, including the EPA, and while Republicans in Congress are urging the Obama administration not to enact any new regulations before the Trump administration takes office. "We think there’s a better chance of Region VII to do the right thing now rather than wait for whatever comes afterwards," said Craig Volland, who chairs the Kansas Sierra Club's Air Quality Committee. "It really comes down to whether EPA, at any level, is going to address this problem in any way." Volland said the state's current "Smoke Mitigation Plan" dates back to December 2010, in the final weeks of then-Gov. Mark Parkinson's administration. It was aimed at reducing the number of days when levels of ozone and other pollutants exceed federal health guidelines. Prescribed burning of grasslands in the spring is considered vital to the Flint Hills ecosystem because it kills off invasive weeds and shrubs before they take root in the ground and promotes growth of native grasses that ranchers depend on to feed cattle and other livestock...more

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