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New Fairbanks air-quality regulations find critics

Posted: September 22, 2013 - 12:09am

FAIRBANKS — The state released a package of proposed regulations intended to help curb some of Alaska’s worst pollution in the Fairbanks area.

The regulations, released by the Alaska Department of Environmental Conservation’s Division of Air Quality include tougher standards for new wood stoves installed in areas of the Fairbanks North Star Borough that fall short of federal air quality standards, more flexible measures to deal with air pollution hot spots and rules to allow local government to issue air quality alerts and take action.

But the proposals immediately encountered critics who say they are variously minimal, unlikely to be enforced or go too far, the Fairbanks Daily News-Miner reported.

Division director Alice Edwards says the proposals are aimed at balancing the need to meet federal air standards with residents’ need to heat their homes.

“We’re trying to provide a common sense, reasonable approach in conjunction to all the other activities that are already on the books,” Edwards said.

The wood stove regulations would cut emission levels of wood stoves coming into the borough by a third of what U.S. Environmental Protection Agency requires for certification. Edwards said the advantage of the cleaner stoves is also a long-term money saver because they’re more efficient.

Edwards said the regulations are a small element that will be compiled with other programs into a plan to prove to the EPA that the state is serious about bringing air pollution under control.

One important element would create standards to determine when smoke levels are at high enough levels to trigger an air quality episode that, if reached, could launch the state or a local air quality control program into action. But it’s unclear what that action would be.

Under current law, the state is required to impose an outright ban on wood burning — likely an unpopular course of action in Fairbanks —in an air quality episode, which can currently be triggered by only high levels of carbon monoxide, sulfur dioxide or coarse particulate air pollution.

Telling people to turn off their heat is unacceptable, said Edwards, so the regulations have dropped that requirement.

“Part of the reason for adding flexibility to the current provision (is) we want to tailor the responses to the current air episode,” she said. “You wouldn’t prescribe an option that would force people to turn off their heat.”

Rep. Tammie Wilson, R-North Pole, said she worries the proposals will override a voter-approved prohibition on borough regulation of wood stoves that she has helped get passed twice.

“I’m appalled that they could go against the voter initiative willingly,” she said. “This is going to go against the voter initiative.”

Edwards said the provision that allows local air quality control programs to implement and oversee what the regulations call “curtailment actions” during air quality episodes, is not meant to circumvent local law.

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Information from: Fairbanks (Alaska) Daily News-Miner, http://www.newsminer.com

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