Villages may get reprieve on costly fuel

Feds propose giving rural sites an extra four years to start using cleaner diesel

Posted: Monday, October 17, 2005

Stevan Brown of Hoonah has a new fuel cost dilemma on the horizon.

The federal government proposed Thursday to give Alaska villages until 2010 - an extra four years - to start using cleaner-burning diesel in their highway, marine and heavy equipment.

Either way, it's going be costly.

Brown and his employees at Hoonah Trading Co., the village's main supply outpost, examined one report last week that said diesel could go up an extra $2 per gallon when the rule goes into effect in rural Alaska. "That's huge!" he said.

Urban cities in Alaska and the rest of the United States must comply with the Environmental Protection Agency's cleaner diesel requirements next year. Refineries, fuel distributors and suppliers are busy trying to figure out how to handle the switch, a state official said last week.

"There will be major new costs when this rule hits here," Brown said.

Diesel is used in trucks, home heaters and at the power plant in Hoonah.

Public comment

Comments must be received by Jan. 11, 2006. They can be submitted by e-mail to, with the subject line "Docket ID No. OAR-2004-0229". They can also be faxed to 202-566-0805.

For more information about clean diesel, see

The new federal requirements apply only to vehicles, boats, locomotives and heavy machinery, but villages such as Hoonah face larger implications because of their reliance on only one or two kinds of fuel. The villages have tight fuel storage capacity and rely on barges to ship the fuel.

The villages will have to decide whether to completely change over to the expensive but cleaner diesel or build separate facilities so they can also maintain a second supply of less costly fuel for home heating, aviation or other uses.

"I wish I could say that A is better than B," said Ron King, a program manager in the Alaska Department of Environmental Conservation's Air Division.

"It's all going to be driven by the volume of the fuels that are going to be needed," King said, adding that it can cost hundreds of thousands of dollars, if not more, to build new fuel tanks in rural Alaska.

The villages are already paying twice as much as cities such as Juneau for a gallon of diesel, King said. "The good thing is that we have an additional four years (for them) to sort out those costs, at a local level," King said.

Though the new ultra-clean burning diesel will cost more, its use will result in a 90 percent reduction in emissions.

On a national scale, the health savings could be enormous. A series of studies in recent years has shown a strong link between routine exposure to diesel exhaust and cancer.

"The medical cost and savings is on the order of $70 billion nationally," King said.

Fuel distributors that serve urban Alaska - including Juneau and other cities in Southeast Alaska that receive regular ferry service - must begin to start supplying the clean burning fuel in 2006.

Car manufactures must begin producing more environmentally friendly diesel road engines in 2007 and non-road engines in 2011.

"This is part of a two-prong approach to reduce emissions," said John Pavitt, an air compliance inspector for the Environmental Protection Agency in Anchorage.

The EPA will inspect the fuel for compliance at the pump. Violations will be tracked and the penalties can be up to $32,500 per day, per occurrence.

The new fuel's sulfur content must be no more than 15 parts per million. Current low-sulfur fuel in use in Juneau is 500 ppm and traditional diesel can be as high as 3,000 ppm.

The EPA should get some credit for working with rural Alaska and the state to give some leeway for the villages, King said.

The state specifically asked EPA to postpone compliance in the villages until 2010, King said. "This rule acknowledges the needs of rural Alaska to have some additional time."

• Elizabeth Bluemink can be reached at

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