Washington State Politics: What did we get for the outdoor burning provisions of the Clean Air Act?

Two interesting voting events happened in Washington State Legislature on April 7, 2009 and March 3, 2009. Both Washington Senate (48 yea, 0 Nay) and House of Representative (98 yea, 0 Nay) voted unanimously, to support and pass the nonsubstantive changes clarifying outdoor burning provisions of the Washington Clean Air Act. The Law which will take effect on July 26th, twenty-three days from today, clarified some difficult issues regarding outdoor burning and the clean air act.

The bill initiated as Senate bill 5767, was signed into Law on April 16, 2009 by Governor Gregoire. As signed, the Law says no person shall engage in any outdoor burning, including the combustion of material of any type in an open fire or in an outdoor container, without providing for emissions control from combustion. In other words, those of us heading for the mountains hide away, recluses or wherever you go to kill time during the summer months, must now be careful as we attempt to combust our lunch leftovers, unwanted bag pack pieces and probably, our hunting trophies on our summer camp fires. Incidentally, this include the combustion of garbage, dead animals, asphalt, petroleum products, paints, rubber products, plastics, or any substance other than natural vegetation that normally emits dense smoke or obnoxious odors.

The bill is one of our many state’s efforts to maintain some level of sanity in our state’s environment quality, especially considering the higher emitted pollutants in outdoor combustion to the ambient air quality. The question before us now is: did the bill reach far enough to address our concerns about pollution from outdoor burning? Were all state residents equally subjected to the provisions of the soon to become law? Will all Washingtonians deem it necessary to work within the boundaries of the law, knowing well that the agricultural communities around the state were cut some slacks with the way the law has been written?

Apart from the slack cut the agricultural communities on this law, what I noticed in the discussion leading up to the final voting on the bill was the unspoken and fundamental assumption that the bill limited the freedom of rural residents and disproportionately put them at a constraint with respect to their daily agricultural activities. The constraint on outdoor burning and combustion of materials was seen as an affront for some regular activities associated with rural living and agricultural activities; and, their constituents’ representatives actively campaigned against some of the provisions of the bill. While some provisions of the bill may have sought some restraints in the way agricultural activities are carried on after July 26th, at least with the combustion of materials in the outdoor, the effort of the bill was to address all the concerns of Washingtonians regarding ambient air quality. While outdoor burning as part of agricultural activities may be part of the problem, air quality pollution are caused by other human activities. For example, automobile driving and industrial activities, activities involving engine combustion and other industrial processes are known to equally, if not more disproportionately, contribute to ambient pollution. The combination of all human activities, including automobile driving, industrial processes, agricultural activities and other, all contribute to the problem of air pollution in the environment.

As we all know by now, Senate bill 5767 becomes the law of the State on July 26th, 2009. From my experience with this type of law, the willingness to abide by the law is only weighted against the potential punishment for its violation. The possible penalties of violators were not clearly stated in the body of the document that was approved by both senate and the house in the 61st legislative session. The repercussion of violating the law will need to be revisited and issue of penalty adequately addressed, if we are serious about dealing with the problem of air pollution under the Washington Clean Air Act. The visitation of the potential repercussions of violating the law may want to begin by the legislature addressing the extensive exclusion notice given to violators of outside burning for the purpose of managing storm or flood-related debris.
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