State regulators publish draft documents to address Fairbanks’ bad air

Ice fog hangs over Fairbanks during a weather inversion on Jan. 21, 2003. This is facing South from the eighth floor of Bartlett Hall at the University of Alaska Fairbanks.

Ice fog hangs over Fairbanks during a weather inversion on Jan. 21, 2003. This is facing south from the eighth floor of Bartlett Hall at the University of Alaska Fairbanks. (Creative Commons photo by Kyle Cuzzort)

State air quality regulators are inviting people who live in and around the Fairbanks North Star Borough’s air-pollution-plagued areas to look at draft documents that outline the problem and proposed solutions. A local air quality advocate said it’s important residents read the documents to understand proposals to clean up the air — and to participate in finding solutions.

State Air Quality Division Director Denise Koch said the documents made public by her agency Thursday are drafts that when completed later this year will form the basis of the State Implementation Plan, or SIP, that will lay out how the Fairbanks area can reduce its unhealthy, fine particulate emissions.

“These are the building blocks, if you will, of the SIP,” she said.

Koch said agency officials posted the documents to promote an exchange of information between them and the public. She said some documents are incomplete.

“There are data gaps,” she said, “and we’re asking the public for additional information.”

The documents have dozens of references to those gaps, such as how much number 1 and number 2 fuel oil is used, broken down into residential and nonresidential use. Koch said the agency also wanted to inform people about how it will oversee local efforts to reduce fine particulate emissions to attain federal air quality standards in what’s now called the Serious Nonattainment Area.

“We want complete transparency,” she said. “We know that this is a very important issue to the community, and we want people to be able to look at our early thinking.”

State Air Quality Division Director Denise Koch and air-quality advocate Jimmy Fox.

State Air Quality Division Director Denise Koch and air-quality advocate Jimmy Fox. (KUAC file photos)

Longtime local air-quality advocate Jimmy Fox said he’s already reading through the documents, and he urges all other area residents to give them a look, so they can appreciate the complexity of the problem and understand the measures the Air Quality Division is planning and considering.

“This is the chance to kind of kick the tires on these draft documents and help the state come up with an implementation plan that we can live with,” he said.

Fox said it would behoove residents to get to know the many different strategies that’ll be employed under the SIP to clean up the air in the nonattainment area — and that are sure to raise eyebrows. Including requiring installation of emissions-control technology on stationary sources such as power plants, which would boost the cost of electricity for ratepayers. Also, possible requirements on the use of ultralow-sulfur heating oil, a costlier but cleaner burning fuel.

“What I’m reading here is that preliminary estimates is that switching to that (fuel) to help address the problem would cost the average household and extra 3 to 400 bucks a year in heating oil costs,” he said.

Fox said locals can help the state understand more about the situation in Fairbanks, and could provide information to regulators that would help them develop a better plan that would work for this area.

“What makes this plan successful is our ownership of that,” he said, “and I hope that all the citizens in the borough don’t shy away from this opportunity.”

Fox said some portions of the documents are fairly technical and can make for dense reading. But he said overall, they should be pretty understandable to most folks.

Koch said the Air Quality Division wants comments on the documents before May 23.

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