Fairbanks Daily News-Miner editorial:
The message was clear at the April 3 air quality meeting of local civilian and military leaders and hosted by the Fairbanks North Star Borough Assembly:
Significant and costly improvements will need to be made to reduce wintertime air pollution in parts of the Fairbanks region. Households and the area’s five power plants, including those on the military installations, will be affected.
And the federal Environmental Protection Agency wants a plan in place by the end of next year.
Fourteen tough reduction measures are being considered, including the registration of heating devices, requiring ultra-low sulfur fuel; limiting wood stoves in new houses; requiring inspections; imposing a broader ban on hydronic heaters; and increasing the downtown steam heating system. The federal Clean Air Act requires the borough to implement the measures or offer alternatives.
Installing chimney stack filters at the power plants is estimated to cost $54 million.
The borough’s air quality director bluntly noted at the meeting that the task will be difficult: “We can’t just have the assembly doing this. This would require buy-in from the entire community.”
The latter part of that statement is key. Community buy-in is essential, not just for a solution to work but also to even get a comprehensive program started.
Fairbanks has a decadeslong history of wrestling with air quality problems and being cranky about it. Just go back to the early 1970s, when noxious vehicle emissions fouled the air.
The Daily News-Miner, in a spunky editorial of April 13, 1973, didn’t have kind things to say about the EPA and its apparent unwillingness to help Fairbanks improve its air quality that, at that time, was being polluted with excessive levels of carbon monoxide from vehicle emissions. That’s a much different problem than we have here today. The air quality issue of the 21st century in Fairbanks is PM 2.5, or super small bits of particulate matter of which wood stoves are believed to be the main source.
In that old editorial, the News-Miner wrote that the Alaska Department of Environmental Conservation “has taken a powder, and the federal Environmental Protection Agency apparently is left with the problem of solving the Fairbanks air pollution problem while shouldering the wrath of local citizens.
“Whatever EPA may come up with, it is likely the reception will be cool. Fairbanksans, as a rule, are not happy with the prospects of being rerouted around downtown, having to fit vehicles with emission devices or having no idling of vehicles enforced.
“Dr. Max Brewer, the state DEC commissioner, has taken a common-sense approach to the situation and is suggesting that all the parties concerned sit down and try to reach a solution. ... While Dr. Brewer has taken a sensible approach to the situation, the EPA has not. ... EPA, a typical bureaucratic octopus, is faced with imposing standards on our community, yet has done little up until this time to help us alleviate the problem.”
Today, in the year 2018, the EPA still isn’t looked upon too kindly. Nonetheless, it remains a powerful agency with the ability to affect lives in the Fairbanks region.
The air program manager for the state Department of Environmental Conservation, speaking at the April 3 meeting, warned against the potential loosening of local air quality rules. Area voters will yet again have the option to do just that when they vote in October on a ballot measure to prevent the borough from regulating home heating devices.
The state program manager warned that the EPA could come in with its own rules for Fairbanks.
“I think it is really important that you guys understand that,” she said.
The local election is just over five months away. Residents can expect to be hearing a lot more about air quality as Election Day nears.