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Air Quality Public Information Fact Sheet

Everyone is thinking about air quality these days. On September 14 the Northern Alaska Environmental Center convened a meeting to discuss the issue of air quality and the upcoming advisory vote. Here's what some of your neighbors are saying.

On October 6 Fairbanks-North Star Borough (FNSB) residents will vote to determine whether Federal air quality standards will be enforced locally by the Borough or at the state level by the Alaska Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC).  There has been considerable controversy over, and a general shortage of public information about the role of smoke from wood burning heating sources in local air quality, over imminent air quality regulations, and over our options to influence the future of air quality in our local communities. On September 14 the Northern Alaska Environmental Center (NAEC) convened a meeting to discuss the issue of air quality and the upcoming advisory vote.  Attending stakeholders included: members of the Interior Woodburners’ Association (IWBA) and NAEC, Mayor Jim Whittaker, FNSB air quality office and Cold Climate Housing Research Center (CCHRC) staff, wood-burning device and fuel pellet vendors, and air quality/energy expert Frank Abegg.  The following report was prepared as a public service message to increase Borough residents’ understanding of the issues before the upcoming election.  It has been reviewed by all participants at the meeting, and is our best effort to provide a brief and balanced critique of the issue that will be presented to voters on October 6.

Summary

Fairbanks is the only community in the state that fails to meet EPA fine particulate (PM2.5) air quality standards to the extent that is has been designated as a “non-attainment” area.  Public health and federal project funding are jeopardized by poor air quality.

The upcoming advisory vote will determine whether the Borough will enter into a Memorandum of Understanding with the State that authorizes FNSB to develop and implement local control programs to address pollution from small stationary emission sources (“area sources”).  If the MOU is not approved, responsibility for pollution control will remain with the state DEC.

The outcome of the advisory vote will only determine which agency regulates local PM2.5 standards, and will not change the fact that Fairbanks (and North Pole?) is an EPA non-attainment area and that a PM2.5 control program WILL be implemented such that federal air quality standards are attained.

The advisory vote does not directly address the means and measures that will be taken to mitigate air quality problems, irrespective of which body is responsible for developing a program and enforcing regulations.  The Borough Assembly would need to pass an ordinance defining statutory authority before any measures become law, and this is the point at which citizen involvement can shape policy.  Alternatively, residents can lobby state legislators if DEC remains the controlling agency.

Background

On December 22, 2008, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) declared part of the FNSB to be a Non-Attainment Area for fine particulate pollution.  PM2.5 standards regulate the allowable quantity of minute (2.5 microns and smaller) particles in our air; these particles lodge deep in our lungs and excessive exposure poses a health risk to everyone, but especially to children, the elderly and those with respiratory and circulatory diseases—those with the fewest options are the first to suffer.  Fairbanks routinely (20-30 times each winter) exceeds the allowable limits, violating federal health-based standards; the problem has grown steadily with increasing population, and more abruptly as surging costs for heating fuel has prompted many residents to use existing wood stoves or install new wood burning devices.

The clock is ticking.  Fairbanksans can opt for Borough control or leave the issue in the hands of the State, but the status quo is not an option.  Following are observations and concerns voiced by participants about the issue of which body, FNSB or DEC, is likely to regulate our emissions more effectively, economically, and with the greatest sensitivity to local needs and circumstances.  

Arguments in favor of PM2.5 Air Quality Program administration by
State of Alaska

Dept of Environmental Conservation (DEC)

A collection of concerns, comments and questions from your neighbors
September 22, 2009

1.  WHO PAYS FOR THE PROGRAM?

  • The state has more money than FNSB, so if FNSB gets control of the program, who pays for it?

2. REGULATORY CAPACITY AND REDUNDANCY

  • DEC is doing a good job regulating industry, why get the FNSB involved??
  • If FNSB does not assume local control, DEC will provide opportunities for FNSB and public input.

3. WHO WILL MAKE REGULATORY DECISIONS?

  • If control is with the state, any new laws go through Juneau where there are 60 legislators.  Locally, there are nine assembly members; it only takes five to decide what happens.  Our state representatives and Senators would be more inclined to go to bat for the citizens than our borough assembly members, because our state representatives are elected by district rather than the borough at large.
  • DEC has offices in Fairbanks, so in effect they are somewhat local. 
  • DEC would outline a range of control options to consider including in the plan and these control programs would be evaluated for costs, benefits, and other local considerations.      
  • DEC would provide opportunities for local input to the development and selection of control programs.

4. WHO HAS THE EXPERIENCE TO SOLVE THE PROBLEM?

· State DEC has programs as does Federal EPA; adding FNSB creates too many levels of government clouds the issues

5. WHAT ABOUT CLEANER ENERGY ALTERNATIVES ?

·        State has provided clean energy alternative solutions to many other areas of AK. Possible projects include Susitna Dam, North slope propane or natural gas.

· Fairbanks Economic Development Corporation's Cost of Energy task force has recommended all of these and more as possibilities to the state, however, the borough has no power to deliver any of those options

 ______________________________________________

 

Arguments in favor of PM2.5 Air Quality Program administration by
Fairbanks
North Star Borough (FNSB)

A collection of concerns, comments and questions from your neighbors
September 22, 2009

1.  WHO PAYS FOR THE PROGRAM?

  • FNSB has spent only grant money so far. Some help will also come from state and federal grants.
  • State monies would be approved by the legislature, competing for funds against other areas of the state.

2. REGULATORY CAPACITY AND REDUNDANCY

  • DEC regulates industry, but only to the extent to appease EPA, and may do the same with PM2.5.  DEC will work to insure federally approved plan is developed.
  • Borough Air Quality program is solely dedicated to Fairbanks area issues; DEC’s program has responsibilities statewide.  
  • In the absence of FNSB assistance, the DEC's Division of Air Quality would need to prioritize resources vs. the work to be completed to move forward with the Fairbanks planning process.
  • State statute requires that the DEC approve a local program that operates in lieu of a state program, and, given FNSB's historical approach to air quality and the successful conduct of the CO control program, DEC has assumed FNSB would prefer to retain control of PM2.5 programs.

3. WHO WILL MAKE REGULATORY DECISIONS?

  • Five FNSB assembly members can decide a vote, but all 9 assembly members live in the borough, and we vote in 3 new members each year.  The public can sway the assembly; ordinances can be changed
  • There are 60 legislators, but only six from the Interior, so any state solution may be forced upon us.
  • DEC could run it, but they have neither the staff nor the funds to gather, and process the information needed to do a proper job of coming up with and maintaining a plan.          
  • We know what to look for, what questions to ask; DEC may have a local office, but the state headquarters does not live locally, and we may be stuck with whatever decisions they make for us. Juneau and Anchorage are a long way away.
  • Under local control, FNSB residents discuss these issues to get it right, and change any ordinances we enact if they prove ineffective or onerous. The FNSB assembly is accessible.

 

4. WHO HAS THE EXPERIENCE TO SOLVE THE PROBLEM? 

  • It is our local health problem and we ought to take the lead in solving it.  By having a local program we leverage other local involvement (e.g. UAF and CCHRC), that would not likely happen were it not for the grants brought in by the FNSB. CCHRC gets grants to study these issues.  If FNSB is out of the loop, CCHRC has no incentive to get grant money, the local research does not get done.
  • Local control is most likely to result in a program that fits this community the best, that works most effectively at the least cost and inconvenience to our residents.

5. WHAT ABOUT CLEANER ENERGY ALTERNATIVES?

  • State, federal, or private relief from large renewable (alternative) sources such as Susitna, Lake Chakachamna, Mt.Spurr would take billions of dollars, 10-20 years to build, and face many environmental and permitting hurdles.
  • Propane is currently under consideration and might be helpful in the short term.  
  • The large natural gas line to America is practically dead; there is a glut of cheap natural gas in the lower 48 and Canada that is already hooked up to existing pipelines.
  • PM2.5 is a "now" item. We cannot wait for state or federal development of cheap alternative energy sources.
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