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EPA approves moderate air quality improvement plan for Fairbanks, Alaska

State and Borough plans include steps to reduce harmful fine particulate air pollution

08/29/2017
Contact Information: 
Suzanne Skadowski (skadowski.suzanne@epa.gov)
206-553-2160

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency announced it is approving the Fairbanks North Star Borough fine particulate or PM2.5 air quality plan submitted by the Alaska Department of Environmental Conservation because it meets Clean Air Act requirements for a moderate nonattainment area. EPA’s approval of the moderate air quality plan means that the state, the Borough, and the community can fully focus on meeting more stringent area requirements that will be needed in the serious area plan and achieving clean, healthy air quality for Borough residents. 

“The state and borough have worked hard to implement reasonable measures to improve air quality in the Fairbanks North Star Borough and they have met a significant milestone,” said Tim Hamlin, director of EPA’s Region 10 Office of Air and Waste. “We are encouraged that they will continue these improvements as they turn their focus to developing a more stringent air quality plan. We think that the Borough and the community are in the best position to solve this issue locally, and we intend to continue to support their efforts.”

“We are encouraged by the Borough’s efforts to work with the community to reduce emissions and appreciate EPA’s approval of the moderate area plan.  This will enable us to focus our efforts on developing the serious area plan and improving air quality in the area,” said Denise Koch, director of Alaska DEC’s Division of Air Quality. “The improved local ordinance, long running changeout program to provide funding to upgrade wood stoves and hydronic heaters to cleaner heating appliances, and the annual Fairbanks Clear the Air Forum and Expo are providing the local community with the information and tools needed to solve the air quality problem locally.”

“The subarctic climate of Fairbanks presents significant challenges to achieving community-wide clean air,” said Fairbanks North Star Borough Mayor Karl Kassel. “We must resolve this air quality dilemma, and I believe Fairbanksans are up to the task. The Borough will continue to pursue a solution to the problem with the least amount of regulations necessary to be successful. Failure is not an option.”

The approved moderate air quality plan identifies reasonable actions to move toward meeting the PM2.5 standard by reducing emissions from residential heating sources — wood stoves and hydronic heaters — that contribute to high particulate air pollution levels in the area. The plan includes measures to improve air quality, such as providing incentives to residents to replace old, high-polluting wood heaters, prohibiting dense smoke from chimneys, and prohibiting the use of unseasoned wood. When high levels of fine particulate pollution are expected in the Borough, bans on the use of wood heaters will go into effect. The Fairbanks North Star Borough nonattainment area has the highest levels of particulate pollution in the country, and it is primarily caused by wood burning during the Borough's frequent winter weather inversions.

In June 2017, EPA reclassified the Fairbanks area from moderate to serious nonattainment because the Borough did not meet the PM2.5 standard in 2015. Reclassification to serious nonattainment requires that Alaska develop a serious air quality plan which will be more stringent than the moderate plan. In contrast to a moderate plan that requires all reasonably available emissions control technologies and measures, a serious plan requires implementation of the best available emissions control technologies and measures. Alaska and the Borough have been working to develop the more rigorous serious air quality plan to reduce fine particle emissions in Fairbanks and North Pole.

Earlier this year, the EPA awarded a $2.5 million targeted airshed grant to Alaska to help efforts to reduce air pollution in the Borough. Alaska is using the grant to fund a wood stove changeout program through a partnership with the Borough. In September, EPA representatives will visit the Borough to meet with state and local officials and air quality planners to support the development of the serious air quality plan.

EPA’s final action will become effective 30 days after it is published in the Federal Register and the Fairbanks moderate air quality plan will become a part of the federally enforceable State Implementation Plan. The prepublication notice is available at: https://www.epa.gov/ak/fairbanks-air-quality-plan

Numerous scientific studies have linked exposure to fine particulates, approximately 1/30th the size of a human hair, with serious human health problems, including increased hospital admissions and emergency room visits by those with respiratory ailments and cardiovascular disease. More information on fine particulates is available at: https://www.epa.gov/pm-pollution.