Northwest NEWS

October 22, 2001


If burning alternatives were affordable and available King County would use them

To: Rep. Kathy Lambert and Rep. Jim McIntire, co-chairs Joint Administrative Rules Review Committee (fax 360-786-7018)
   Re: Rules Review for Department of Ecology's outdoor burning rules
   Puget Sound Clean Air Agency (PSCAA) states its intent to expand the no-burn-in-rural-areas boundaries "throughout our four county jurisdiction," while Solid Waste offered to dispose of wood waste hauled to Inglemoor High School in August, but excluding tree branches under three inches in diameter and excluding brush.
   Unlike urban-lot yard waste, rural acreages contain thistles, Scotch broom, blackberries, and small fallen branches. Nonnative noxious weeds, including Scotch broom and thistles, are required to be cleared from private property, but various disposal programs do not accept them.
   All over Hollywood Hill are piles of dried brush awaiting a change-of-heart from the PSCAA, which is empowered to request from the DOE an exemption for Hollywood Hill from the burn ban, or for your committee and the governor to enforce the letter of state legislative law, not agency desires.
   Those piles represent a fire hazard, as does dry, uncut brush and fallen, ungathered tree limbs whose owners have given up maintaining their acreage.
   As noted in date already sent you, and admitted to by PSCAA, the Hollywood Hill burn ban did not result from emission-standard failures during the brief spring and fall window periods allowed for outdoor burning in rural areas. It resulted from Hollywood Hill's being designated in 1983 by the Department of Transportation (DOT) as an urban area that contributed to carbon monoxide failures from traffic in downtown Bellevue and Seattle.
   Completely ignored is that fact that under the Growth Management Act of 1990 rural-area designations were made under specific criteria which did not include DOT's findings.
   It should be noted that in 1997 state standards for pollutants in Washington were exceed only 3 times, all in Eastern Washington where there are dust storms and field burning. In 2000, when King County was listed among the four areas with the greatest potential for failing air standards, it was due to traffic congestion. (We still haven't failed the standards.) A 2001 article said that "idling cars harm the ozone far worse than cars that are cruising." Which means acreage-waste-hauling trucks halted in traffic will contribute more carbon monoxide testing failures than Hollywood Hill's quick spring/fall outdoor burns which have never been listed as contributing.
   The importance of rural outdoor burning as an acceptable method of vegetation debris disposal is underlined by the fact that King County carved out a chunk of unincorporated rural land within the city of Maple Valley so it could continue its own outdoor burning. If burning alternatives were "reasonably available" and affordable, one would think King County would be using them.
   I hope your committee not only upholds the specific wording of RCW 70.94-743(1)(a) but also that the legislature keeps a close eye on PSCAA's coming definition of "reasonable" cost and availability of alternatives to outdoor burning in rural areas. Otherwise it could be just a matter of time until PSCAA's considerable clout will spread to all rural areas.
   Maxine Keesling, Woodinville