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Local Leaders Say Key To Clean Air Is Managing Grassland Burning

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Tuesday, December 7, 2010

Clean air is on the minds of state and local leaders. Managing the burning of Kansas grasslands is considered a key to keeping our air clean.

Keeping our air clean, according to EPA standards, is expected to become even more challenging. A draft plan being talked about now would discourage Flint Hills landowners from burning so much of their property on the same days.

"We do appreciate the use of fire as a management tool," Kay Johnson, Wichita Office of Environmental Initiatives Manager said. Flint Hills landowners use fire to help control the growth of shrubs and trees on their property and to still promote the growth of grasses that livestock use for feed.

On a few days in April of 2009, so much smoke from the Flint Hills sent people in Wichita out into the streets thinking their buildings were on fire. At times the smoke causes Wichita to exceed ozone compliance levels from the Environmental Protection Agency.

"We are in compliance today with 75," Johnson said. "Anything lower than what we've got right now, we will be out of compliance."

That's 75 parts per billion of ozone particulates in Wichita's air. But the EPA is expected to lower the ozone attainment threshold perhaps before the end of the month.

Sedgwick County Commissioners hear a draft of "The Kansas Flint Hills Smoke Management Plan." The draft plan asked for voluntary restraints on burning. The state faces serious consequences if burning is not better controlled because the smoke reaches and pollutes cities as far away as New York.

"Other states can sue the state of Kansas for not controlling its emissions." Johnson said. She says the EPA has warned urban and Ag-group leaders in Kansas that if they can't get management over the fiery issue, the EPA will put air quality monitors in the Flint Hills counties with the most burning.


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