Fairbanks cold records continue to fall; air quality alert issued

FAIRBANKS — A group looking to roll back rules on air pollution has missed the deadline to get a question on the ballot for October’s local election.

The group has until Sept. 21 to gather at least 1,872 valid signatures for the 2018 ballot, Fairbanks North Star Borough Clerk Nanci Ashford-Bingham said.

Kristina Hoffert, a main sponsor of the “Home Heating Reclamation Act,” said sponsors have obtained about 1,100 signatures. 

“We didn’t make it, but we are still pushing through,” she said.

The group is getting support from Rep. Tammie Wilson, R-North Pole, and members of the Republican Women of Fairbanks.  

Signature-gathering started in June for the initiative, which would prohibit the borough from regulating “solid fuel heating appliances or any type of combustible fuels.”

Hoffert is sponsoring the effort with a co-worker from the Fairbanks Correctional Center, Benjamin Mathews.

The question they aim to get before borough voters is similar to questions voters have seen. The last borough ballot measure directed at prohibiting the borough from regulating home heating, in 2015, was rejected by 53 percent of voters, but residents have approved similar ballot measures in previous years, effectively turning over air quality management to the state. 

Borough leaders have been fine-tuning the local air quality program and adopted the toughest rules yet earlier this year by reducing the threshold that triggers a burn ban and by requiring people seeking a waiver from the rules to prove an economic hardship. 

Sponsors of the initiative have complained the new rules are onerous in a subarctic city with an average temperature that is below freezing for five months of the year. 

The tougher rules on wood burning were approved under pressure from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, which reclassified the borough from a “moderate” to a “serious” nonattainment area, spurring new expectations and new deadlines for attaining cleaner air. 

Wintertime particulate pollution spikes are caused largely by wood smoke trapped at the ground level when the air is stagnant.

Studies show a link between particulate pollution and multiple illnesses of the heart and lungs.  

Contact staff writer Amanda Bohman at 459-7587. Follow her on Twitter: @FDNMborough.

Editor's note: This story has been updated to reflect where petition signatures are being gathered.