News Releases from Region 10
EPA Proposes Action on Fairbanks, Alaska Air Quality Plan
Tim Hamlin, Director, EPA Region 10 Office of Air and Waste:
“EPA is proposing approval of the Fairbanks air quality plan, but our work with the State of Alaska and the Borough is far from done. The Borough faces an especially difficult challenge when its fine particulate levels spike during the many cold air inversions that occur each winter. The biggest contributor of fine particulates are the woodstoves and wood heaters many Borough residents use to heat their homes. The big challenge is that the need for heat is greatest when burning wood is most likely to be harmful to public health. Switching to cleaner sources of home heating, especially during weather inversions, can greatly reduce harmful particulate emissions. For those who must burn wood, using dry wood in professionally installed certified wood stoves and using techniques to burn it hotter reduces fine particle pollution and the amount of wood burned. EPA will continue to support local and state efforts to develop and implement actions that will achieve the standard and improve air quality for Borough residents.”
- The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency has taken a necessary step to protect air quality in Fairbanks Alaska. EPA is proposing to approve the Fairbanks North Star Borough fine particulate or PM2.5 air quality plan submitted by the Alaska Department of Environmental Conservation.
- Alaska’s air quality plan demonstrates that the Borough has been unable to attain the Clean Air Act PM2.5 air quality standard by the date required.
- Alaska’s air quality plan also identifies reasonable actions to move toward meeting the PM2.5 standard. The plan focuses on reducing emissions from residential heating sources — wood stoves and hydronic heaters — that contribute to high particulate pollution levels in the area.
- Fairbanks was designated nonattainment for the 2006 24-hr PM2.5 air quality standard in December 2009. The state’s Fairbanks air quality plan was due in December 2012. In January 2013, the DC Circuit Court remanded the Clean Air Act 2007 implementation rule for particulate matter. In response to this ruling, EPA revised the submission date for states to submit their moderate air quality plans to December 31, 2014.
- Alaska submitted the Fairbanks air quality plan in December 2014. To view the state’s air quality plan submittals, visit: http://dec.alaska.gov/air/anpms/comm/fbks_pm2-5_proposed-regs_2016.htm.
- The state’s Fairbanks air quality plan included all of the required elements of an attainment plan which demonstrates that it was impracticable to attain the standard by the required deadline.
- Alaska demonstrated that it implemented all reasonably available control technologies and measures available including the primary source of elevated fine particulates in the Borough, wood stoves and hydronic heaters.
- In 2015 the Borough, and in 2016 the state, approved a mandatory curtailment program to restrict the use of woodstoves during periods of harmful levels of particulates in the air.
- Under a curtailment program, the Borough and the state track weather conditions on a daily basis and provide restrictions on woodstove use to reduce emissions when conditions are bad for air quality and public health.
- This year, Alaska and the Borough will continue to work with the local community to develop a more rigorous plan to reduce fine particle emissions in Fairbanks and North Pole and to achieve the standard.
- The state has until December 31, 2017 to submit a Fairbanks serious air quality plan to the EPA.
- EARTHJUSTICE filed a Complaint for Failure to Act on June 9, 2016 against the EPA. After public notice and comment the EPA committed to proposing action by January 19, 2017 and a final action by August 28, 2017 through a consent decree.
- In a related action, EPA has proposed to reclassify the Borough from moderate to serious non-attainment, because the Borough did not meet the PM2.5 standard in 2015. The Borough has recorded the highest level of fine particulates in the nation.
- Reclassification to serious will require that the state develop a serious air quality plan which will be more stringent than the moderate plan. In contrast with a moderate plan which requires implementation of all reasonably available emissions control technologies and measures, a serious plan will require implementation of the best available emissions control technologies and measures.
- The state and the Borough are already working to develop a serious area plan.
- Though EPA expects to reclassify the Borough from moderate to serious, the Clean Air Act requires EPA to act on the state’s moderate area plan; EPA must take final action on the moderate plan by August 28, 2017.
- EPA’s proposed action will be published in the Federal Register and will include a 30-day public comment period from the date of publication.
- For a prepublication version of this action, please visit: 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:
- premature death in people with heart and lung disease
- other serious events such as nonfatal heart attacks
- increased hospital admissions and emergency room visits by those with respiratory ailments and cardiovascular disease.
- Learn more about particulate matter and health at: https://www.epa.gov/pm-pollution.