FAIRBANKS — A year ago, a public hearing on proposed state air pollution regulations drew an angry crowd that heckled, interrupted and intimidated. On Wednesday night, a hearing on the revised regulations was mostly empty.
In two hearings — one midday and one in the evening — held at the Noel Wien Library, just 11 people testified on regulations that includes rules about the opacity of smoke coming from wood stoves.
The Alaska Department of Environmental Conservation is in the process of crafting state regulations to deal air pollution — primarily from wood burning — in parts of the Fairbanks North Star Borough.
Instead of opposing any form of regulation, the testifiers on Wednesday mostly argued the regulations didn’t go far enough, particularly when it comes to outdoor hydronic heaters.
“I think some easy things can be done to help improve the air quality, the very first step would be to ban the hydronic wood boilers,” said former borough Assemblyman Mike Musick. “Several of us watched truckloads of these come up to town because they did not meet air quality standards in the Lower 48, but we were asleep at the switch.”
Island Homes resident David van den Berg said he was supportive of any effort to clean up the air, saying the health impacts of fine particulate air pollution, known as PM 2.5, far outweighs other concerns.
“Living in town, we’re in one of the big red spots, and it’s really unpleasant,” he said. “I would lend support to creative and aggressive solutions to air pollution.”
North Pole Rep. Tammie Wilson also attended the meeting. Wilson was one of the primary opponents of local air pollution regulation and has been critical of the DEC, particularly when the first draft of regulations was released last year.
Wilson attributed the empty meeting largely to fatigue over the issue, but added that she didn’t think the regulations had any red flags.
“I don’t think anything in the plan pokes out as really wrong,” she said. “It’s going to be about the implementation.”
Cindy Heil, a member of the DEC who is working on the regulations, said the department has been striving to be responsive and sensitive to people’s concerns. She said the latest release of the regulations was crafted to respond to concerns heard last year.
“It’s a less scary package than last year,” she said. “There’s also been more education an awareness.”
In addition to smoke opacity limits, there’s proposed requirement for wood sellers to list the moisture content of wood they’re selling and only dry wood could be burned or a mix of wet wood and compressed logs.
The regulations don’t include fines — a power that the DEC doesn’t have — but would be enforced through voluntary efforts and lawsuits for egregious cases.
The DEC held two open houses on the initiative in North Pole and Fairbanks earlier this week. Heil said the department is making a strong effort to listen to the community and collect public input before adopting the regulations later this year. The regulations would go into effect next winter.
Other hearings were held throughout the state, but participation was similarly lackluster.
The Anchorage office of the DEC’s Air Quality division was open for public comment for two hours midday Wednesday.
Two employees waited in a room rigged with a voice recorder and stenographer and teleconference equipment, but nobody showed up to give comment.
Anchorage staff reporter Casey Grove contributed to this report.
Contact staff writer Matt Buxton at 459-7544. Follow him on Twitter: