Judge dismisses lawsuit over Oregon’s new heat and smoke rules

When local residents who aren’t firefighters see summertime haze or clouds on the horizon, they often guess it’s smoke. Mid-summer they often think it’s wildfire smoke, and in the fall they suspect it’s a prescribed burn. This is a “common experience” with wildfire smoke, according to attorneys with Oregon OSHA, who successfully argued last week that it’s fairly easy to determine when the air is smoky and affecting air quality.

On Tuesday, according to the Salem Statesman Journal, a federal magistrate dismissed a lawsuit against Oregon OSHA in which plaintiffs claimed the state agency’s new heat and smoke rules somehow violated the 14th amendment of the U.S. Constitution and were unenforceable. Lawyers for Oregon Manufacturers and Commerce, Associated Oregon Loggers, and Oregon Forest Industries Council claimed that air quality fluctuations are caused by many factors, and not just wildfire smoke.

“Most times, it’s not obvious,” attorney James Anderson declared. “There’s no method to determine that air quality is due to wildfire smoke, or prescribed burn smoke, or other things that make up particulates.”

Magistrate Mark D. Clarke was not persuaded. “Why is it that complicated?” he asked. He said Oregonians are quite familiar with wildfire smoke. “I’m not sure any of us have any trouble knowing when wildfire smoke rolls in. I’m having trouble with that, factually.”

The lawsuit also claimed that OSHA’s rules to protect workers against extreme heat and smoke were too vague to be enforced. The new rules, as KGW-TV reported last July, took effect after recent heat waves in Oregon resulted in medical problems and deaths, prompting new requirements for employers to protect employees from heat-related illnesses. The new OSHA rules require, when the heat index hits or exceeds 80 °F, that employers provide shaded areas for workers to rest, more break time, and access to plenty of water. When temperatures exceed 90 then breaks must be longer, communication must be more frequent, and workers must be monitored more closely.

Dangerous heat exposure is risky especially for farm workers, according to Ira Cuello Martinez, policy director for Pineros y Campesinos Unidos del Noroeste (PCUN), Oregon’s farm worker union. “You’re constantly moving and doing repetitive motions, having to bend down, and there aren’t many shaded structures when it comes to the field or doing work in agriculture,” he said.

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5 thoughts on “Judge dismisses lawsuit over Oregon’s new heat and smoke rules”

  1. What is with all these goofy “Constitutional” lawsuits. 12 out of 10 times they’re tossed out due to lack of evidence or ANY evidence for that matter.

  2. I have to disagree with the following statement:

    Most times, it’s not obvious,” attorney James Anderson declared. “There’s no method to determine that air quality is due to wildfire smoke, or prescribed burn smoke, or other things that make up particulates.”

    We can figure out the source through monitors, such as, IMPROVE, NADP, CAMS, and RAWS stations and modeling.

    It’s called source apportionment.

    Seriously, this is what happens when you get rid of ologist!!!

    Merry Christmas!!!

  3. In October 1998 I was the burn boss on a Rx burn on the Chemult Ranger District in South Central Oregon. The burn was about a half mile from the Ranger Station and about 500 feet higher. I jumped through all the Oregon state air quality hoops and was given the okay to burn. It was an easy and economical burn. By the time we left the unit that evening the flames had died down and all the smoke was drifting away from the District Compound.

    The next morning when I got to work there was extremely thick smoke at the District Compound. The employees that lived in Forest Service housing were waiting for me and demanded that I get my crew up to that burn unit and mop it up immediately to stop all that smoke that had settled in on them in the middle of the night.

    I did not get my crew up to the unit. Instead, I drove up the Walker Mountain Lookout road until I got out of the smoke to take a look. What little smoke was coming from the burn unit was drifting away from the District compound.

    It gets cold every night in Chemult and this had been a very cold night and the night time inversion was still in effect. Every Forest Service House, 22 of them if I remember right, had a wood stove going. I went back and told them they would have to wait until about 10:00 am when the inversion would break and then their wood stove smoke would disperse.


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