Responsibility for air quality regulation lies with federal, state, tribal and local agencies. The core of air quality regulations is the Clean Air Act (CAA). The CAA was issued by the U.S. Congress, and calls for the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to protect public health by creating air quality standards, rules, and policies. It is then up to states, tribes, and local governments to create and enforce laws to meet these standards. States and Tribes may also issue more stringent air quality regulations than those mandated by the EPA. This approach helps to ensure that federal air quality standards are met.
States are also required to draft State Implementation Plans (SIPs) and tribes may draft Tribal Implementation Plans (TIPs) detailing how they will maintain air quality. These plans are then submitted to the EPA for approval. To ensure such plans are successful, States and Tribes operate monitoring networks of instruments to record data on air quality. By law, these data are recorded and stored to monitor the success of meeting air quality goals, and are submitted to EPA to demonstrate compliance with Federal standards. The successive pages will cover the Clean Air Act and provide some more detailed description of air quality standards, state implementation plans, and how all these relate to fire.
Prescribed and wildfire possess a level of complexity that is important to consider when it comes to air quality issues. Wildland fire emits pollutants regulated by the EPA; however, the EPA also recognizes the threat wildfires pose to public health and safety, the importance of prescribed fire as a fuels management tool to help reduce that threat, and the ecological role of fire as a critical part of many of our ecological systems.
“Wildfires pose a direct threat to air quality and public safety—threats that can be mitigated through management of wildland vegetation. The use of wildland prescribed fire can influence the occurrence of catastrophic wildfires which may help manage the contribution of wildfires to background O3 levels and periodic peak O3 events.” Excerpt from US EPA, Implementation of the 2008 National Ambient Air Quality Standards for Ozone: State Implementation Plan Requirements, March 6 2015
“Prescribed fire mimics a natural process necessary to manage and maintain fire adapted ecosystems and climate change adaptation, while reducing risk of uncontrolled emissions from catastrophic wildfires”….. Excerpt from US EPA, National Ambient Air Quality Standards for Ozone Proposed Rule, Dec. 17 2014