Citizen Scientist Air Quality Monitoring Project

Bruno Grunau, left, and Patrice Lee prepare to install a neighborhood PM2.5 air quality monitor at a residence Friday afternoon, December 11, 2015. Citizens for Clean Air has started a Citizen Scientist Air Quality Monitoring Project. Local citizens are forming groups to monitor their neighborhoods for PM2.5 air pollution. A major goal of the project is to inform people of more localized PM 2.5 levels to allow them to better protect their health.

A lawsuit over smoke pollution in Fairbanks and North Pole is wrapping up in federal court in Seattle.

The case involves the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and the Alaska Department of Environmental Conservation on one side and environmental groups, such as Fairbanks-based Citizens for Clean Air, on the other side.

The issue is missed deadlines for a plan to clean up particulate pollution that lingers in parts of Fairbanks and North Pole on cold winter days when smoke is coming from chimneys and the air is stagnant.

Both sides agreed to a Dec. 15, 2019, deadline for the state of Alaska to turn in an air pollution cleanup plan to the EPA. Under two Oct. 23 consent decrees signed by U.S. District Judge Thomas Zilly, they also agreed on a deadline of Jan. 15, 2020, for the EPA to reject the plan as incomplete or start reviewing it.

“The work to clean up the air in Fairbanks continues, but this is a step forward,” said Jeremy Lieb, associate attorney for Earthjustice, the law firm retained by Citizens for Clean Air, the Alaska Community Action on Toxics and the Sierra Club.

This is the fourth lawsuit the groups have brought against the EPA accusing the agency of failing to enforce the Clean Air Act in Fairbanks. The groups sued in 2014 and twice in 2016.

“We are hopeful that court-enforced deadlines will accelerate the focus on a remedy to our serious air pollution, and its associated bad health problems,” said Patrice Lee, of Citizens for Clean Air, in a prepared statement. “The longer it takes to clean up our air, the more citizens will continue to be the collateral damage.”

In 2017, the EPA designated the borough as a “serious nonattainment area,” triggering a requirement for the state to impose stricter pollution controls.

The Clean Air Act also requires a new cleanup plan, known as a State Implementation Plan or SIP. The latest lawsuit stems from a missed deadline with respect to finishing the new serious SIP.

Borough, state and federal officials have been working closely to develop the new plan to address particulate pollution.

The state’s goal is to reduce pollution by 5% a year with expected attainment in 10 years.

Under the Clean Air Act, the borough faces a Dec. 31, 2019, deadline for bringing the area into compliance with the Clean Air Act.

The new regulations that will be part of the SIP impact households and businesses that use oil, wood or coal for heat.

Buildings would be required to switch to No. 1 heating oil and small-scale coal heaters along with outdoor hydronic heaters would eventually be prohibited. Limits would be put on the sale of wet firewood.

Contact staff writer Amanda Bohman at 459-7545. Follow her on Twitter: @FDNMborough.