EPA proposes Fairbanks air quality action
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The Environmental Protection Agency is proposing to accept the Alaska Department of Environmental Conservation’s air quality plan, addressing winter air quality issues in the city of Fairbanks. However, EPA also accepts that the state plan will not succeed in reducing the pollution to levels acceptable under the Clean Air Act. The agency’s new proposal results from a complaint by environmental organization Earthjustice that EPA had failed to act in dealing with Fairbanks pollution.
EPA is also now considering reclassifying Fairbanks’ air quality status from moderate to serious, a reclassification that would require the implementation of “best available” rather than “reasonably available” emission control technologies. The agency has given the state until Dec. 31, 2017, to submit a serious air quality plan.
The Fairbanks air pollution largely emanates from the use of wood burning stoves for the heating of buildings during the winter. In cold winter weather, thermal inversions tend to trap the smoke from the stoves near the ground, thus giving rise to high concentrations of particulates in the air. EPA says that the Fairbanks area has recorded the highest levels of particulate pollution in the United States. The pollution has serious health ramifications.
The DEC air quality plan places restrictions on the use of wood burning stoves when air quality advisories are in effect. EPA says that the plan does show that the state has implemented all reasonable pollution control measures.
People in the Fairbanks area are motivated to burn wood for heating because of the relatively high cost of alternative fuels in the region. The Interior Energy Project, a project being managed by the Alaska Industrial Development and Export Authority, is trying to organize an affordable natural gas supply for the city, in part to address the air quality problem.
- ALAN BAILEY