DEC poised to ban all open burning in NYS
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CATSKILL — Folks who live in rural counties like Greene and Columbia will no longer have the option of using a burn barrel or burning autumn leaves or conducting any type of open burning — with limited exception — after a proposed rule change is implemented by NYS Department of Conservation later this year.
The plan is to take a ban that has been in place since 1972 which prohibits opening burning in the more populated areas of the state — towns with populations of 20,000 or more — and make it effective statewide.
The full text of the proposed rule change is on DEC’s website at www.dec.ny.gov, under a link for “Proposed Regulations for Clean Air.” Follow the links for “Open Fires.”
The regulations have been posted for public comment, which is stated to run through July 10, 5 p.m.
However, the DEC, in announcing the changes, said the “formal” comment period runs 45 days from the proposal being printed in the Register, an official state publication of notices.
That printing occurred the same day as the press release, May 7 — and 45 calendar days from that date is June 21, almost a full three weeks before the conflicting July 10 date provided.
DEC spokesmen were unavailable at press time to clarify the discrepancy. However, it should be noted that all seven of the public hearings scheduled across the state for receiving verbal comment all fall between June 23 and July 2 — after the 45-day Register printing “formal” comment period ends on June 21.
There are several portions to the proposed changes, with the first being the definitions, or “express terms,” which has items for open fire, camp fire, agricultural lands, agricultural wastes, and similar terms.
It also notes that exceptions will be made for “barbecue grills, maple sugar arches (saphouses), and similar outdoor cooking devices when actually used for cooking or processing food.”
Also exempt are “small fires for cooking and camp fires,” as long as either only charcoal or untreated, natural wood is used.
There are also several other exceptions, including “ceremonial or celebratory bonfires,” religious ceremonies, and prescribed burns for fire companies.
The next part is a 12-page “Regulatory Impact Statement Summary,” which lists the proposal’s statutory authorization — DEC’s authority to do it under law; its legislative objectives — how it ties into the policies of the State Legislature; and its needs and benefits — why it’s necessary and the purpose of it.
The latter notes, “The primary benefit of the proposed rule, if promulgated (made official), would be a significant improvement in health and quality of life for those impacted by smoke from a neighbor’s burn barrel.”
It also addresses costs for the proposal, and provides a formula that yields an estimate of between $104 to $412 per household per year to stop using a burn barrel, which it later terms “minimal” and “inconsequential.”
It also noted that because of the increase of trash, debris, and leaves at transfer stations, “there will likely be a need for more employees, or employee hours, at rural solid waste transfer stations,” but does not provide an estimated cost.
The next section is the 14-page Regulatory Impact Statement itself, which reiterates and slightly expands the content of the Summary.
The next section is the 4-page Job Impact Statement, which concludes, “While there may be an increased opportunity for jobs handling solid waste, it is difficult to determine the exact number of jobs.”
“The amount of increase in solid waste to be handled is thought to be a small percentage of the existing amount.”
This section is followed by the 6-page Rural Area Flexibility Analysis, which notes the proposal would repeal the existing permit process for burning in Columbia County, since it would be replaced by the more strict statewide ban.
The last part is the 5-page Regulatory Flexibility Analysis for Small Business and Local Governments, which states the proposed revisions “will affect small businesses involved in agriculture, construction, and waste haulers.”
“Local governments may need to hire additional employees for their transfer stations, and there will be increased landfill costs associated with final disposal of a somewhat larger waste stream,” it states.
Of the overall proposal, DEC Commissioner Pete Grannis said Wednesday, “This is a public health and safety issue.”
“The trash we’re burning has become more complicated and damaging to air quality over the decades,” said Grannis. “From dioxins to furans to arsenic, numerous toxic chemicals can be released by open burning — worries we didn’t have several decades ago,” he added.
“Moreover,” said Grannis, “wildfires occur regularly from badly tended open fires.”
“This proposal,” he said, “will reduce the chances of that happening.”
In addition to health advocacy groups, the proposal has also won the backing of the Firemen’s Association of New York State.
FASNY president Michael Wutz said Wednesday, “Our main concern is the safety aspect of the open burn process.”
“But there are other concerns, too,” said Wutz. “Burn barrels can cause smoke — and that triggers fire responders, which can overtax personnel.”
“Also, open burning of household solid waste has been proven to also generate toxic pollution that undeniably contributes to public health risks,” he said.
The three closest public hearings are in Dutchess County and Albany.
The first will be an evening session in Staatsburg — between Rhinebeck and Hyde Park — at Margaret Lewis Norrie State Park, off Route 9, on Tuesday, June 24. It will be at the park’s Norrie Point Environmental Center, 256 Norrie Point Way, from 5-8 p.m.
The second will be in the morning of Wednesday, June 25, from 9:30 a.m.-noon, at DEC Central Office, 625 Broadway, Public Assembly Room 129, in Albany.
The third will be the evening session at that same location on that same day, and run from 5-8 p.m.
The contact person for submitting written comments is NYS DEC, Division of Air Resources, Attention: Robert Stanton, 625 Broadway, Albany, NY 12233-3254.