Smoke (Law 808D)

Wildfire smoke has emerged as one of the most pressing air pollution and public health threats in the Western United States. Last year, despite decades of progress in reducing air pollution from transport, industry, and electric power, wildfires caused the highest number of “spare the air” declarations ever called by local Air Quality Management Districts in California. Oregon, Washington and Colorado all suffered similar “airpocalypse” fire seasons. Recent model-based estimates of mortality from wildfire smoke-derived particulate matter suggest that between 1200 and 3000 seniors likely died from the fires this summer. Current law and regulation not only doesn’t consider particulate matter derived from wildfire smoke to be a target for regulation, it also imposes burdensome permitting requirements on one of the most effective risk-mitigation strategies: prescribed fire.

This course will build on student work from last spring, where students explored regulatory obstacles to an expansion of prescribed burning in California and began developing a simplified air quality health benefits model to estimate the potential public health and economic benefits of better fuels management. This fall, we will continue refining the air quality model and, on the regulatory side, we will investigate potential new policy approaches to streamlining the approval process for prescribed burning projects while protecting environmental values with a particular focus on new approaches to NEPA and CEQA compliance for prescribed fire and cultural burning.

The course is intended for students interested in multi-disciplinary approaches to public policy problems. No background in either the Clean Air Act or wildfire policy is required. Students will engage in weekly lecture and discussion of wildfire smoke science and policy, including student presentations. Students will also meet once per week with Professors Sivas and Wara in working sessions to discuss progress on team projects. Students will then present the results of their research to California legislative and executive branch staff engaged in developing new approaches to wildfire policy.

Course Catalog

Consent of Instructor – Application Portal


Deborah A. Sivas 1

Deborah A. Sivas

  • Luke W. Cole Professor of Environmental Law
  • Director, Environmental and Natural Resources Law and Policy Program
  • Director, Environmental Law Clinic
  • Senior Fellow, Stanford Woods Institute for the Environment
  • Affiliated Researcher, Center for Ocean Solutions
  • Faculty Advisor, Emmett Interdisciplinary Program in Environment and Resources
  • Professor, Doerr School of Sustainability

Clients & Deliverables

Clients: Various California legislative and executive branch decision makers

Deliverables: policy memos, visual data models, final report, policy briefings
Evaluating the Health Impacts of Prescribed Fire Policy in California

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