Panel weighs resolution on burning

TOPEKA — A resolution that seeks to allow rangeland burning in the Flint Hills without sending Wichita and other cities out of compliance with air pollution regulations drew testimony in a Senate panel Thursday.

Each year, millions of acres of prairie are burned in the Flint Hills. The process helps keep trees and other woody plants from encroaching on the grasslands and helps provide richer fodder for cattle.

Burning in the grasslands is an economic and environmental issue, said Mike Beam, senior vice president of the Kansas Livestock Association.

Cattle that graze on grass grown on burned prairie on average weigh about 32 pounds more, which is about $8 to $16 more per animal, he told the committee.

The burns also send smoke into the air and threaten to push cities such as Wichita and Kansas City out of compliance with stricter ozone rules that the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency is considering,

"We want to be an urban partner with our rural neighbors," Wichita lobbyist Dale Goter told the Senate Natural Resources Committee.

The city supports an amendment proposed by the Kansas Department of Health and Environment that seeks to have the EPA exclude air monitoring data on days when there is burning in the Flint Hills.

Senate Concurrent Resolution 1623 urges the U.S. Congress to exempt the Flint Hills from smoke management plans mandated by the EPA. If the resolution passes both chambers, the Kansas secretary of state will send a copy to federal leaders in Washington, D.C.

The committee will vote on the resolution next week.