FAIRBANKS — A group of 36 private sector air quality stakeholders begins work today on figuring out how to reduce smoke pollution in the Fairbanks North Star Borough.

It’s a problem that has vexed state officials and local leaders for years, and time is running out. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency wants PM2.5 particulate pollution — a byproduct of combustion — brought down to healthy levels by Dec. 31, 2019. 

Some of the highest readings in the country of episodic PM2.5 pollution are coming from a monitor in North Pole.

The stakeholders group is an effort of the three local mayors and an economic adviser. The group, with members from various sectors of the borough, will meet at the University of Alaska Fairbanks in the new engineering facility from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monthly meetings will be held through the summer and fall.  

The facilitator of the Fairbanks Air Quality Stakeholders Group is former UAF Chancellor Brian Rogers. The hoped-for end product is a to-do list for the state and borough. 

“The findings of the stakeholder group will be in the form of recommendations to the Fairbanks North Star Borough Assembly and the Alaska Department of Environmental Conservation identifying the controls required to demonstrate continued progress toward attainment of the ambient PM2.5 standards,” according to the group’s mission statement and responsibilities. 

Much of the group’s work will entail reviewing what other communities have done to reduce smoke pollution. Some local air quality programs are already in place, including a wood stove changeout program and burn bans on bad air days when the air is stagnant. The EPA is pressing for more smoke pollution control measures in an effort to protect public health.

The stakeholders group will spend their first day getting to know one another and the means by which decisions will be made. They will learn about the air quality regulatory process. 

“These meetings are open to the public; however, a time for public testimony will not be offered,” a news release states. 

A two-thirds supermajority will be required for a recommendation to pass, though dissenting opinions will reportedly be noted in the end product. 

Sectors represented on the panel include academia, health, utilities, labor, coal industry, military, chamber of commerce, wood burners and environmental groups.

The group has members from the Usibelli Coal Mine, Golden Valley Electric Association, Superior Pellets, Northern Alaska Environmental Center, Fairbanks Housing and Homeless Coalition, Citizens for Clean Air, Downtown Association, Explore Fairbanks and the Fairbanks Economic Development Corp. The Interior Gas Utility and the North Pole region are also represented.

Members of the panel include former Alaska Attorney General John Burns; former Assemblyman John Davies, who is also a former state legislator; and former Assemblyman Rick Solie. Patrice Lee of the Interior Gas Utility; Jennifer Schmidt, retired public health nurse and former member of the Fairbanks school board; Deb Hickok, CEO of Explore Fairbanks; Jimmy Fox, of the borough Sustainability Commission and Citizens for Clean Air; and Scott Eickholt, business manager for Laborers Local 942, are also among the panel’s members.

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