Fairbanks grapples with air pollution enforcement

Posted: Monday, February 07, 2011

FAIRBANKS — Even though the state of Alaska is tasked with trying to convince federal officials that it’s tackling air pollution problems in Fairbanks, the state says it hasn’t sought more money to help enforce standards.

Alaska has been mandated to come up with a plan to tackle “fine particulate” air pollution in its second-largest city and across the state by 2014. If it fails or if the proposal is not approved, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency will write one itself.

But the state’s air quality office told the Fairbanks Daily News-Miner on Friday that it hasn’t requested more money next year to respond to pollution complaints in the city.

Gov. Sean Parnell said people have the right to heat their homes with cheap fuel, but that the state also has a responsibility to guard against air pollution. The state, keeping those interests in mind, will need to keep working with Fairbanks to balance those interests and meet national pollution standards, he said.

“To put the burden on the state to solve that issue, (which) is really a federal mandate, has been rough,” he said.

The Fairbanks North Star Borough Assembly passed a plan last summer, but voters chose in November to strip its regulations on home-heating systems. Much of the plan is voluntary.

The city has issued one citation, to a man for burning coal.

Fairbanks borough Mayor Luke Hopkins said voluntary standards are rarely enough to help a community meet a deadline, “and I don’t expect it to happen here.”

Juneau also has a problem with fine particulate pollution, but the city polices air quality. The municipal government has followed a local enforcement plan since the mid-1980s, said Heather Marlow, the municipality’s lands and resources manager.

Fine particulate pollution levels in Juneau are less severe than in Fairbanks, and the EPA decided last year to leave the capital city off its official list of troubled communities.

The city and borough of Juneau temporarily bar people, through burn bans, from using wood-feed heating systems when pollution levels reach a trigger point. Public employees then hand out warnings and $100 tickets for violators of the ban.

For more, go to www.newsminer.com

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