Our view: The government shouldn't ignore pollution from the public forests.
We think we have this straight.
If residents' fireplaces and woodstoves fill the air with schmutz, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency lays down the law, requiring no-burn days and other tough rules to keep the region in compliance with federal air-quality standards.
But if a wildfire does the same thing - indeed, even if it pushes pollution measurements off the charts for weeks - it's something that "just happens."
Funny, to the kids at soccer practice or the gardeners weeding their tomato patch, the smoke does the same harm.
Yet the EPA doesn't take wildfire smoke seriously as a health threat, granting exemptions to counties that endure a summertime brown cloud blowing from neighboring forests on the theory that we can't really control the blazes.
While last summer's wave of lightning-sparked fires was one for the record books, the flames were remarkable only for their scope. In California, summer fires are as predictable as sunny 100-degree days. And while we can't - and, biologists say, shouldn't - stop all of them, we do know how to reduce the risk that those fires will blow out of control.
In the meantime, though, north state counties will seek waivers from the EPA so the fires won't mar our otherwise fine air-quality record. Shasta and surrounding counties meet strict new rules for fine dust, a relatively rare feat in California.
As a bureaucratic imperative, that makes sense. Residents shouldn't be forced to cure a problem that's not of their making.
But maybe we'd be better off if we treated the forests as the gross polluters they've become. If federal management is part of the problem, the federal government should take responsibility for its share - just as Knauf Insulation or the drivers of diesel trucks must.
Wildfire smoke on the scale we've seen recently isn't something that "just happens." It's the product of a paralyzing thicket of federal laws, along with the long-term failure to invest in the fuel management that the government's own plans call for.
If the federal government were to commit the cash to seriously reduce wildfire risks in Northern California's public forests, we'd all breathe easier each summer in more ways than one.
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