Fairbanks missed EPA deadline for reducing fine particulate levels in North Pole area

Pollution over Fairbanks in midwinter (Photo from Alaska DEC)

The Environmental Protection Agency has taken federal Clean Air Act-mandated actions to reduce Fairbanks North Pole area wintertime fine particulate pollution.

Bill Dunbar with EPA’s Seattle office says the agency has issued a determination that the community failed to meet a December 2019 air quality attainment deadline, and denied a request for a 5-year extension to do so. Dunbar describes both actions as procedural and expected.

“At the end of the day the news here is the State, EPA and the FNSBorough are working together on developing a plan that should, over the next several years, deliver even further benefits than we’ve seen over the last couple, three years.”

The next step is amending a State Implementation Plan to demonstrate how burn bans and other measures will reduce PM 2.5 levels by 5% a year until they meet federal standards. Alaska Department of Environmental Conservation air program manager Cindy Heil says the agency knew when it submitted the plan last year that the Fairbanks North Pole area would not meet the December 2019 deadline, and that the plan to get there would need more work. She says the plan amendments, will show how mitigation measures will achieve the required 5% reduction in PM 2.5 emissions.

“For example, the woodstove change-out program. Every time we change out an old stove and put a new stove in, we have to quantify all those change-outs, so every one of our measures going through that.”

Heil says the amended plan also has to include contingency measures in case the others fail to achieve the 5% reductions.

“We are trying hard not to put in any new control meaures, but one of the requirements is we have to look at every single measure that we have not put in, and re-evaluate them, and show that we don’t need them or we can’t use them.”

Heil says that’s based on either their impracticability or prohibitive cost.  She says the amended plan is expected out for public comment this summer.