The state released its newest plan for curbing air pollution in Fairbanks and North Pole on Friday, and the plan involves a wood stove registry, bans on installing coal-fired heaters and outdoor hydronic heaters along with a prohibition on the sale of wet or unseasoned firewood. 

These rules and more begin Jan. 8. 

Other rules in the final State Implementation Plan, commonly referred to as the SIP, begin in 2022 and 2024. 

Certain residents who heat with fuel oil will be required to use more-expensive No. 1 heating oil starting Sept. 1, 2022. Some residents will have until Dec. 31, 2024, to remove existing old dirty wood stoves, outdoor hydronic heaters and coal-burning devices, according to a summary of the final regulations provided by the Alaska Department of Environmental Conservation.

The rules apply in an area known as the nonattainment area, which includes the cities of Fairbanks and North Pole along with the populated outskirts, such as around Badger Road. 

Lower thresholds for state-declared burn bans also start Jan. 8. 

“Depending on the weather this winter, it may mean seeing more frequent air alerts compared to past years,” stated a DEC news release. “Alerts will be called at lower thresholds to help reduce smoke sooner in an effort to prevent violations of health standards.” 

Hours after the plan was released, the state announced air quality alerts for Fairbanks and North Pole, triggering burn bans through noon Monday. 

The new plan was crafted in an ongoing effort to get areas of Fairbanks and North Pole into compliance with the federal Clean Air Act. The air here has been out of attainment with federal law for more than a decade due to episodic particulate pollution spikes linked with winter weather conditions. Particulate pollution is believed to harm human health. 

Air pollution in parts of the Fairbanks North Star Borough must be cut in half under federal law. 

“This plan will ultimately improve air quality and will lead to attainment in less than a decade,” DEC Commissioner Jason Brune said in a prepared statement. 

The plan was turned over to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. Under a court settlement, the EPA has until Jan. 15, 2020, to reject the plan as incomplete or start reviewing it. 

This is the second clean-air plan the state has produced for the EPA. It was required after the portions of the borough were declared seriously out of attainment with the Clean Air Act. 

A third, more-stringent plan known as the 5% plan — because the goal is to reduce pollution by 5% a year — is under development. The DEC stated in the news release that that plan will be put out for public comment in late spring 2020. 

Completion of the serious SIP is the culmination of a years-long process that started with a group of local professionals, known as stakeholders, who reviewed numerous pollution-control measures and made recommendations to the state.  

Those recommendations formed the basis for a draft plan that was announced in May. Public comment was collected through July. 

Regulators pointed out that several changes were made, including relaxed deadlines, to the final rules based on feedback. 

 “We hope in those cases the additional time will allow individuals and businesses an opportunity to plan, budget, and explore options for how they can meet the requirements,” Alice Edwards, director of the state Air Quality Division, said in a prepared statement. 

One change based on feedback was extending a requirement for switching to No. 1 fuel oil for two more years. 

The state also raised a sulfur content requirement for coal, which is burned at area power plants. The DEC had considered changing the sulfur content requirement to 0.2% from 0.4%. They made the new standard 0.25% after public outcry because 0.2% would have disqualified coal from the nearby Usibelli Coal Mine. 

“The tremendous local input we received from Fairbanks and North Pole residents, businesses and groups was used to help better tailor the regulations and requirements for the community,” the DEC commissioner said in a prepared comment. 

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

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