Fairbanks Could Face Tougher Pollution Regulations

Dan Bross, KUAC – Fairbanks

Fairbanks could soon face tougher fine particulate pollution regulations.  The Environmental Protection Agency is reviewing its standards for the tiny particles, called PM 2.5, produced by combustion.  Fairbanks began regularly violating the standard during the winter when cold air traps emissions at ground level, after the E.P.A. substantially tightened it in 2005 due to increased concerns about health impacts. Borough transportation Director Glenn Miller says permissible levels could be ratcheted down again by the end of this year.

As a federally designated non-attainment area for fine particulates, Fairbanks is required to work with the state to develop a plan to get into compliance.  The plan due in December 2012 has to include an inventory of emissions sources, environmental models, and pollution control measures. Miller says investigations into several potential sources, including local power plants continues, but wood burning for heating is the current focus.

In June, the borough assembly approved a wood stove and boiler removal and replacement program.  It offers participants cash payments and tax breaks to fix, get rid of, or swap out old units for newer cleaner burning E.P. A. approved models.  Miller says there’s already been a good response to the grant-funded program.

Miller says 82 people have applied, most wanting to replace old stoves.   A wood stove industry trade group reports that similar programs in Lower 48 cities with fine particulate pollution problems were able to halve emissions through elimination of older stoves.  He says local surveys indicate there are about 3,000 such units in Fairbanks that need to be removed or replaced at a cost of $7-8 million.  If the current pilot program is successful it could leverage additional state and federal grants to continue it. Miler stresses that a public education campaign on how to operate stoves cleanly, and the importance of burning dry wood, is also important.

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