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Air Quality

Air Quality and Agricultural Burning

The USDA Agricultural Air Quality Task Force (AAQTF) has made recommendations on an agricultural burning policy. AAQTF was created in accordance with Section 391 of the Federal Agriculture Improvement and Reform (FAIR) Act of 1996, which directed the Chief of the Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS), a USDA agency, to establish a task force to address agricultural air quality issues.

The AAQTF Agricultural Burning Policy recommends that states and tribes adopt a smoke management program (SMP) to reduce the public health and welfare impacts of using burning in agricultural production. The SMP is implemented through an agricultural burning manager (ABM)—the air quality agency or designated authority responsible for managing agricultural burning at the state, local, or tribal level.

The policy is founded on two basic principles:

  • allow the use of fire as an accepted management practice, consistent with good science, to maintain agricultural production, and
  • protect public health and welfare by mitigating the impacts of air pollution emissions on air quality and visibility.

The recommended SMP is two-tiered. De minimis fires, as established by the ABM, are exempt.

Tier One: Tier 1 is a voluntary program for areas where agricultural burning rarely causes or contributes to air quality problems. The SMP establishes conditions (time of day and year, meteorological conditions, safety parameters, type of burn, maximum number of acres, etc.) under which agricultural burning can occur. It is essentially a permit by rule.

Tier Two: Tier 2 is a more structured program than Tier 1 and is designed for areas where agricultural burning contributes to Particulate Matter National Ambient Air Quality Standards violations or visibility impairment in Class I federal areas (areas set aside under the Clean Air Act to receive the most stringent protection from air quality degradation). The SMP would include a process for authorizing/granting approval for agricultural burns and establish criteria for burn/no-burn decisions. Detailed permitting requirements such as a real-time meteorological assessment for burn decisions, air quality monitoring, public notification, and enforcement requirements would likely be included in a Tier 2 SMP.

The policy also recommends additional research in the following areas:

  • Tthe ability to predict downwind concentrations of particulate matter utilizing various modeling techniques,
  • Evaluating the applicability of current sampling techniques to agricultural burning,
  • Determining accurate emission factors,
  • Evaluating techniques to reduce emissions of material determined detrimental to human health and visibility, and
  • Developing alternatives to agricultural burning.

The complete policy is available for more information.


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