Press Release

Forest Fires and the Clean Air Act: How Best to Protect our Health

Nov 27, 2018
WASHINGTON, DC—The images from California’s fires are deeply disturbing. During the worst days, they included average citizens in San Francisco wearing construction masks to protect themselves from potentially serious threats to health caused by breathing the smoky air. And amid the concerns, a question is begged: does the federal Clean Air Act, which protects millions of Americans from harmful air pollutants, require any action that might reduce exposure to the smoke?
 
The answer, it turns out, is a resounding “no.” 
 
Today, Resources for the Future (RFF), posted a new blog by Dr. Alan Krupnick examining the present policy. It is called, Should the Clean Air Act Cover Forest Fires? In it, Dr. Krupnick states that normally, when a state is reviewing fine-particles pollution like the smoke from wildfires, the Clean Air Act permits the state to ignore data on concentrations caused by rare events—like a wildfire. 
 
However, things might be different as fires become more frequent and more severe. Dr. Krupnick goes on to note: “In a time when forest fires were less intense, less frequent, and maybe easier to put out, such exclusions made sense. After all, failure to meet the standards triggers costly mitigation measures tied to industry, transportation, and more. And perhaps not much could have been done to reduce forest fire risks. But now, with more frequent, severe fires—and particularly if we can hope to manage fires to reduce smoke plumes headed to cities—this exclusion may not be warranted.”
 
Read the full blog: Should the Clean Air Act Cover Forest Fires?

Resources for the Future (RFF) is an independent, nonprofit research institution in Washington, DC. Its mission is to improve environmental, energy, and natural resource decisions through impartial economic research and policy engagement. RFF is committed to being the most widely trusted source of research insights and policy solutions leading to a healthy environment and a thriving economy.

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Unless otherwise stated, interpretations and conclusions in RFF publications are those of the authors. RFF does not take institutional positions.