FAIRBANKS — After months and months of waiting for an update on the state’s plans to address the Fairbanks area’s chronically bad wintertime air pollution, the state gave the Borough Assembly a bare-bones update that left many Assembly members fuming.
Officials representing the Department of Environmental Conservation and its Air Quality Division gave a much-delayed update on the work they’re doing to fight air pollution in the Fairbanks area. But the presentation was largely superficial, lacking in specifics about what the state actually proposes to do, and Assembly members weren’t shy about their thoughts.
“I’m a tad more than frustrated here,” Assemblyman Karl Kassel said at the end of the meeting. “I’m so frustrated with the lack of progress on this. If you’ve got 11 people working locally on this. We were supposed to be having the report we’re having tonight like eight months ago. This report has been sketchy and lacking definitive comments on regulation and really not much for us to comment on, we’re talking about a very generic report here.”
As for the presentation? The state outlined a plan to essentially continue programs the borough has already been doing.
That includes continued work on the wood stove exchange program, continued work on bringing natural gas to the Interior and continuing education on proper wood stove use.
DEC Deputy Commissioner Lynn Kent the state has taken more time on the regulations because Fairbanks, with its frigid winters, makes it difficult to limit any one heating source.
“The methods we selected here may not be the same methods that are used in the rest of the country or work in the rest of the state,” she said. “It’s important that we come up with solutions here.”
She said the state won’t be able to clean up the Fairbanks’ chronically bad wintertime air pollution and meet the Environmental Protection Agency’s standards for clean air by the 2015 deadline.
With the actual regulations not yet released to the public, the DEC representatives were cagey about talking about what exactly is contained within those pages.
They were particularly tight-lipped about the mandatory, enforceable measures that are required by the EPA to be part of the plan. In the earlier form of the plan, those included fines and even a burn ban (which exempted people with single source of heat or financial constraints that prevented a switch to heating oil).
“Is a burn ban part of the equation?” Assemblyman Van Lawrence asked.
“There has been a tremendous amount of progress working on the State Implementation Plan and regulations and reworking draft regulations to make sure that what we come up with is do-able and acceptable to the community,” Kent said. “The obvious example there is everywhere else is they have wood stove burn bans, and we know we can’t do that here.”
The state has an end-of-the-year deadline to provide a plan to the EPA that shows the Fairbanks area can meet the EPA’s standards. That plan must have a 30-day public comment period with the public before it can be sent to the EPA and many Assembly members were skeptical even that could happen.
Contact staff writer Matt Buxton at 459-7544. Follow him on Twitter: @FDNMpolitics.