FAIRBANKS — The head of the Alaska Department of Environmental Conservation says the state could be more active in enforcing pollution laws after Fairbanks rejected stricter standards in a fall 2010 ballot measure.
Commissioner Larry Hartig told the Alaska House Finance Committee on Friday the decision by residents could have statewide ramifications for federal road dollars to Alaska, which depends on a federal order that the city reduce pollution levels by 2014.
It could also induce broader economic sanctions, according The Daily News-Miner.
“We really don’t want to get Fairbanks in a box where development is restricted,” Hartig said.
Alaska Republican Rep. Tammie Wilson, a former Fairbanks North Star Assembly Member, said she worries regulators could use Fairbanks’ problem as justification to punish the city economically, including bypassing the city if a long-discussed natural gas pipeline is built.
The federal order spurred Fairbanks North Star Borough mayor Luke Hopkins to issue a plan for stricter standards on wood-burning stoves and made fines for pollution possible.
The ballot measure stripped those powers from the city and turned them over to the state. Hopkins said he now doesn’t think the city will be able to meet the order’s deadline.
The state’s environmental conservation department can use civil actions, instead of fines, to enforce pollution standards.
“Our preference is for the community to do it,” Hartig said.
Wilson, who helped write the ballot measure that took the teeth out of the city’s pollution-control plan, said she prefers public education programs and subsidies for home heating over enforcement measures.
Smoke from inefficient wood stoves is believed to be the No. 1 contributor to the problem that has put Fairbanks on the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s list of communities violating fine particle pollution standards.
As home heating oil prices have skyrocketed, more residents are using wood. Emissions from increasing wood burning include tiny but toxic particulates.
The particulate matter consists of tiny individual grains just 2.5 micrometers or less in size. They lodge deep in the lungs and can cause respiratory problems.
The state can use public nuisance laws as an enforcement tool to discourage the worst polluters, and eventually bring about civil lawsuits if the issues aren’t resolved.