EPA proposes partial approval, disapproval of Alaska’s air plan for Fairbanks North Star Borough
SEATTLE (January 10, 2023) -- The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency today announced that it is proposing to approve portions of Alaska’s plan for combatting harmful particulate pollution in the Fairbanks-North Star Borough, and disapprove others.
“Over the past 13-plus years, the state and borough have achieved important reductions in particulate levels, however Fairbanks residents continue to endure potentially dangerous wintertime particulate pollution,” said Casey Sixkiller, Regional Administrator of EPA’s Region 10 office in Seattle. “We look forward to working with the state and local officials to improve their plans to meet the federal air quality standards meant to protect people’s health.”
Numerous scientific studies have linked particle pollution exposure to a variety of problems, including premature death in people with heart or lung disease, nonfatal heart attacks, irregular heartbeat, aggravated asthma, decreased lung function, and increased respiratory symptoms, such as irritation of the airways, coughing or difficulty breathing.
While average PM2.5 levels in the FNSB have fallen by about half from 2015 levels of approximately 130 micrograms per cubic meter, wintertime levels during inversions remain double the federal 24-hour standard of 35 micrograms.
The Clean Air Act requires the Fairbanks-North Star Borough to be in compliance with the federal PM2.5 standard no later than October 2025, but EPA believes the plans submitted by the state will not accomplish that goal. The state has previously developed plans that failed to meet the particulate standard by two prior deadlines of 2015 and 2019.
EPA believes the approvable portions of the plans are improvements to the current plan that will make progress to attainment for some sources of emissions in the area, including
- a baseline emissions inventory of all emission sources contributing to PM 2.5 levels in Fairbanks;
- PM2.5 precursor demonstrations (an analysis showing volatile organic compounds and nitrogen oxide do not significantly contribute to PM2.5 formation in Fairbanks); and
- portions of the emission control strategy for wood-fired heating devices.
EPA believes significant portions of the state's plans won't achieve the particulate reductions necessary to meet the standards meant to protect public health, and is proposing to disapprove the plans'
- Failure to adequately support its conclusion that requiring "best available control technologies" for coal and oil-fired energy electricity generating units that have either rudimentary or non-existent sulfur dioxide emission controls is economically and/or technologically infeasible;
- Control strategies for commercial, industrial, and residential heating sources, including failing to require the use of ultra-low sulfur diesel for home heating;
- Inadequate evaluation of emission controls for other commercial sources of PM2.5 emissions;
- Failure to demonstrate attainment of the particulate standard; and
- Failure to adopt adequate contingency measures. Contingency measures are controls held in reserve in case the area fails to make sufficient progress towards attainment. These measures need to be able to achieve enough emission reductions so that decreases in pollution continue despite a plan failure.
EPA is making its proposal available for public comment and anticipates finalizing its action by the end of 2023.
About electric generating units
Alaska has determined that SO2 contributes to elevated PM2.5 levels, and EPA’s latest research shows that significant percentages of PM2.5 in Fairbanks and North Pole are derived from SO2.
EPA has discussed with Alaska its belief that the state must identify, adopt, and implement technologically and economically feasible control measures on sources of SO2 emissions, including coal and oil-fired energy generating units which produce large amounts of SO2 and have either rudimentary or no SO2 emission controls. These include:
- Coal-fired units
- Aurora’s Chena Power Plant;
- Doyon’s Fort Wainwright power plant; and
- University of Alaska Fairbanks’ Campus Power Plant
- Oil-fired units
- Golden Valley Electric Authority’s Zehnder Power Plant and
- North Pole Power Plant
Following publication of this proposed action, EPA will open a 60-day public comment period seeking comments on the proposed rulemaking and will hold a public hearing during the public comment period in February in Fairbanks.
The agency will then review the public comments and finalize the action. If EPA finalizes disapproval of the state's plan, the Clean air Act mandates a freeze in transportation planning, the imposition after 18 months of a permitting requirement that, for every unit of emissions from a new or modified source in the area, two units must be reduced, and restriction of funding for highway projects after 24 months. However, the state can avoid sanctions by submitting a revised plan that corrects the deficiencies and EPA approving the revised plan.