ALBANY - Once a winter when snow is on the ground, Lester Goodermote cuts, stacks and burns the brush encroaching on the hay and corn fields he rents out near the Vermont line.
Goodermote says it's ''the only intelligent way to get rid of it.''
It could soon become illegal, too.
A state Department of Environmental Conservation proposal to ban the open burning of trash and brush statewide is sparking protests in some rural corners. State officials contend that modern trash can be a toxic mix of foam cups, glossy paper, plastic wrap, synthetic rubber, pressure-treated wood and that burning it creates pollution. They're getting an earful from critics who live far from garbage routes and landfills.
''It would be a real hardship,'' said Goodermote, a Rensselaer County legislator. ''Some of these people are probably 15 miles from a recycling facility.''
New York enacted a burn ban for larger municipalities in 1972, a time of spreading suburbs and growing concern about air pollution. But the 36-year-old ban does not apply to towns or cities with fewer than 20,000 people, meaning there are more than 500 municipalities where open burning is still allowed.
Environmental officials say the ban they proposed in May will make New York's air cleaner by cutting down on the emissions of heavy metals, benzene, formaldehyde, particulate matter and other toxins. Though a single backyard fire might not seem like much, state officials say that burning 10 pounds of household trash a day may produce as much air pollution as a modern incinerator burning 400,000 pounds.
Regulators say the ban also will cut down on wildfires, many of which start when trash burns go wrong. States from coast to coast, from New Jersey to California, have adopted bans for similar reasons.
Efforts to enact a law banning open burns have foundered in the state Legislature thanks to opposition from lawmakers representing rural areas. A regulatory ban sidesteps legislative opposition, though environmental officials are required to solicit comments through public hearings.
So many people wanted to have their say that the DEC extended the public comment an extra three weeks to Aug 15. As the comment period neared the end, the agency said it had received 935 e-mails, 300 letters and petitions with some 2,000 signatures.
A pro-vs.-con breakdown isn't available yet, though people on both sides are passionate.
Bruce McClure said he's tired of burnt-garbage stench as he rides his bicycle around his home in rural Norwood in northern New York. The new rule may cost people some money, he says, but spending money for health is worth it.
''It takes money to have a toilet in the house and a septic system,'' he said, ''but not many people argue about that.''
On the other side are people who see the rule as too broad and too costly.
''Traditionally, it's the way people have made it so they can afford to do certain things,'' said Jeanne Sager of Callicoon Center in Sullivan County. ''They burn their trash instead of driving it to the landfill, which means they don't have to pay the tipping fee, they don't have to pay the gas. And, hey, look at the price of gas right now.''
While the rules include exceptions for camp fires, barbecue pits, pep rally bonfires and American flag disposal, there's no exception for burning brush. Critics say this makes the proposal particularly onerous.
In the Adirondacks, Long Lake supervisor Gregg Wallace said he's fine with a ban on burning diapers, but it's wrong to prohibit people living in a 6 million acre wilderness preserve from burning ''clean, all-American wood.''
''We have trees. We have blow downs. We have all sorts of maintenance issues that need to be addressed after storms,'' he said.
William Farber, president of the Adirondack Association of Towns and Villages, said the rule would force municipalities to buy additional wood chippers and then find places to compost the resulting mounds.
The New York Farm Bureau opposes the ban for similar reasons. Farmers say it will add an expense for hauling away tons of agricultural bags, wraps and ground covers.
Critics would be happier with something along the lines of neighboring Vermont and Massachusetts, two states where burning trash is banned but brush burning is allowed with a permit (though Massachusetts has total bans in Boston and other large cities).
DEC spokeswoman Lori O'Connell said the agency will consider all comments.
They hope to have a rule ready in the latter part of 2009.