Lawsuit filed against EPA over fine particulate pollution in Fairbanks, North Pole

A suit has been filed in federal court against the Environmental Protection Agency to force action to address wintertime fine particulate pollution in the Fairbanks, North Pole area. The complaint was filed by the environmental law firm Earth Justice on behalf of Fairbanks based Citizens for Clean Air, Alaska Community Action on Toxics and the Sierra Club. Earth Justice attorney Kenta Tsuda says the suit demands EPA action on a state plan submitted to the agency early last year, outlining steps to clean up Fairbanks area air.

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(EPA logo courtesy of the Environemntal Protection Agency)
(EPA logo courtesy of the Environemntal Protection Agency)

“The federal Clean Air Act provides a process to get there,” Tsuda said. “But at the moment, that process is stuck. So we are bringing this suit to address bureaucratic foot-dragging, to force the EPA’s duty to address the plan that is before it, and ultimately to get the state and federal back to addressing the bad air.”

It’s the second time in recent years that the groups have filed suit to force federal action relative to the state plan. Tsuda says last time that resulted in the EPA forcing the Alaska Department of Environmental Conservation to submit the plan. Areas of Fairbanks and North Pole have long suffered periodic wintertime fine particulate pollution episodes due to wood, coal, and oil combustion emissions being trapped at ground level by wintertime air inversions. Fine particulates pose a documented health threat. Citizens for Clean Air member Dr. Owen Hanley likens air borne particulates to other unseen pollution like lead or radon gas.

“Those particulates are too small for people to see, but it has been indisputably proven that exposure to those levels cause premature death by clotting mechanisms, by heart attack mechanisms by stroke mechanisms, so I don’t think it is tolerable and EPA said it is not, so it is just asking them to help us solve the problem,” Hanley said.

The EPA is expected to reclassify the Fairbanks and North Pole as a serious non-attainment area for fine particulates following years of exceedances of federal air quality standards. The state is seeking to divide the area, as air quality in Fairbanks has shown improvement, while North Pole continues to regularly exceed federal standards.