EPA announces plans to reject Alaska’s state improvement plan
FAIRBANKS, Alaska (KTVF) - UPDATE: On January 9 a U.S. District Court Judge ruled that the State of Alaska is allowed to intervene in a lawsuit, Citizens for Clean Air v. Michael S. Regan, which is trying force the EPA to either approve or disapprove the state’s implementation plan.
After 13 years of working with the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to reduce health-threatening PM2.5 emissions, the EPA says it will not give the state its stamp of approval for plans to reduce emission levels.
The EPA believes significant portions of the State Implementation Plan, (SIP), will not achieve the particulate reductions necessary to meet federal standards.
While PM2.5 levels in Fairbanks have fallen since 2015, the EPA says the current plan will not decrease the levels enough to satisfy requirements for federal compliance.
Fairbanks North Star Borough (FNSB) Mayor, Bryce Ward, commented on the EPA’s decision Tuesday saying, “I’m disappointed that they didn’t approve the SIP. I think that it was an innovative approach from the community to try to address the issue of air quality. We recognize, and I think even the EPA recognizes, that some of their methodology for what happens when the community gets to this point in the non-attainment cycle can be problematic especially in our environment, and we were hoping that the EPA would see that the same way that we did.”
Nearly 90% of the emissions in the borough and surrounding areas are caused by residential wood smoke.
Borough officials says they are working hard to continue to allow residents to burn wood, regardless of the EPA’s disapproval.
“It’s really hard to speculate what might happen. I can say that between the State of Alaska’s Department of Environmental Conservation efforts and the borough’s, it is our goal to maintain the ability to burn wood in the interior. However, doing so responsibly and making sure our devices are clean so we can limit the emission of particulates as much as possible,” said FNSB Air Quality Control Manager, Steven Hoke.
If Alaska does not propose a new, approved plan by the end of 2023, the EPA may impose sanctions. These could halt transportation planning and funding for highway projects as well as imposing emission reduction requirements for new construction.
In an effort to help clean up in the air in the borough, there are several programs available. The borough has implemented a change out program for residents interested in changing their primary heat source.
The Clean Air Act requires Alaska to be in compliance with the federal PM2.5 standard no later than October 2025.
The EPA will open a 60 day public comment period. Residents can also submit comments online to docket ID NO. EPA-R10-OAR-2022-0115.
A hearing is scheduled for February in Fairbanks.
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