Perverse incentives: The case of wildfire smoke regulation

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This article argues that decisions regarding planned wildfire are marred by an anachronistic and inaccurate distinction between “natural” and “anthropogenic” fire. Rationalizing that unplanned wildfires are “natural,” the federal government excludes pollutants from such fires from air quality compliance calculations at the same time it encourages states to vigorously control pollutants from “anthropogenic,” prescribed fires. The result contributes to an undervaluation of necessary, planned wildfire. Several solutions are suggested to remove these distortions, including adopting a default rule whereby all wildfire smoke, of whatever origin, “counts” for purposes of air quality compliance.

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