Air quality standard approved while the path for prescribed fire remains uncertain

Feb 13, 2024

On February 7, 2024, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) announced a final rule change to the National Ambient Air Quality Standards for fine particle pollution, also known as PM 2.5 or soot. The change tightens the average annual standard down from the previous level of 12 to a new level of 9 micrograms per cubic meter, based on available health science.

Tall Timbers has tracked this change closely since its proposal in early 2023. Our concern has always been that tightening the air quality standard without accommodation for prescribed fire will restrict use nationwide.

To be clear, Tall Timbers supports air quality standards for human health. We disagree with the approval of the Rule change before doing the work to establish a clear path for prescribed fire implementation —especially since it is well known that prescribed fire is the key to mitigating the negative air quality, health, and safety impacts of wildfires.

The tighter standard means more areas of the country will no longer achieve the standard and will be subject to additional regulatory burdens for prescribed fire use. This is especially true for private conservation landowners who currently lead the way in prescribed fire use but don’t have the capacity that public agencies may have to complete more complex reporting.

Tall Timbers has been a consistent voice on this issue in DC since the proposed rule was announced last year. We are one of the only conservation groups speaking to the importance of private conservation lands, Tribes, and states’ ability to continue to conduct prescribed burns under tightened PM 2.5 regulations. We continue to meet with Congressional staff and offer legislative solutions that protect prescribed fire use and its benefits.

This significant investment in advocacy is showing signs of return. In January 2024, Tall Timbers staff participated in a facilitated two-day air quality roundtable event hosted at the The Jones Center At Ichauway near Albany, Georgia, with national leaders. The roundtable was one of only three events hosted nationwide to promote understanding and dialogue concerning maintaining and increasing prescribed fire use within the air quality regulatory framework.

“We were impressed with the roundtable event and heartened by EPA, Georgia Environmental Protection Division, and other agency commitments to work on implementation pathways that limit impacts on prescribed fire use,” noted Morgan Varner, Tall Timbers Director of Research. Varner was designated the Georgia Task Force chairperson to coordinate five working groups, including other Tall Timbers staff members.

We will continue advocacy work to share our viewpoints with elected officials and look for all legislative and regulatory pathways to maintain and expand access to prescribed fire. We will also continue to provide you with updates as the implementation of this rule change takes shape. Please see our past articles for additional background on this critical topic, including Tall Timber’s letter to the EPA.

About the Author
Brian Wiebler
The Tall Timbers Communications Director is always looking for an excuse to be outdoors. Birds, bikes, boats, boots... all good things for Brian. Originally from Iowa, he grew up in a family with a strong hunting and conservation ethic. This led to a career that has spanned from California to Florida with positions as a wildlife biologist, urban forester, and environmental planner, before landing "home" with Tall Timbers in 2016.
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