Reimagining Exceptional Events: Regulating Wildfires Through the Clean Air Act
June 01, 2021 | 96 Wash. L. Rev. 765
Abstract: Wildfires are increasing in both frequency and severity due to climate change. Smoke from these fires causes serious health problems. Land managers agree that prescribed burns help mitigate these negative consequences. Prescribed burns are lower-intensity fires that are intentionally ignited and managed for an ecological benefit. They reduce the amount of smoke produced and limit wildfire damage to natural systems and human property.
The Clean Air Act (CAA) is designed to regulate air pollution to protect public health, yet it exempts wildfire smoke through the exceptional events designation while imposing strict regulations on prescribed burns. Congress and the Environmental Protection Agency must change the exceptional event designation to hold states accountable for smoke caused by improper land management. These changes will prioritize exempting fire that fulfills ecological roles and realigning the exceptional event designation with the public health goals of the CAA.
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