EPA Administrator Wheeler listens to residents about air quality plan for Fairbanks

FAIRBANKS, Alaska (KTVF) - The Fairbanks North Star Borough community has been working on air quality concerns for more than a decade. After years of non-attainment, Alaska Department of Environmental Conservation has to provide a Serious State Implementation Plan or SIP, to the Environmental Protection Agency to show a path forward of how they are going to bring the borough into attainment with the Clean Air Act.

EPA Administrator Andrew Wheeler traveled to Fairbanks with Senator Dan Sullivan, Senator Lisa Murkowski, and other local leaders. Wheeler listened to invited testimony by stakeholders before they opened the public comment for any resident who wished to speak. (Sara Tewksbury/KTVF)

Over the summer, ADEC collected public comment and formal testimony on their proposed draft of the Serious SIP. Public Information Officer for ADEC, Laura Achee, says their staff are reviewing the public comments that were received and may update the draft of the Serious SIP and the proposed regulations. After any changes are made, Achee says the draft will go to Commissioner Jason Brune for approval before it is sent to Lt. Governor Kevin Meyer and then the EPA for final review.

EPA Administrator Andrew Wheeler traveled to Fairbanks with Senator Dan Sullivan, Senator Lisa Murkowski, and other local leaders. Wheeler listened to invited testimony by stakeholders before they opened the public comment for any resident who wished to speak.

Following the testimony, Wheeler said in a media availability, "I think for the first time in a long time, the federal government is working with the state and the local community, to try and solve the problem. We're not working at loggerheads with each other, we're trying to get the solutions and we're trying to make sure the local government, in conjunction with the state can submit a plan to the EPA, that the EPA can then approve, without having to go to the negative step of having to impose a Federal Implementation Plan on the local community."

Murkowski said she has been following the issue for a decade and doesn’t remember seeing the different coalitions come together like they have now. “The wood burners coming together with those who are concerned about the health, and these coalitions working with the state, working with the federal agencies now. I think that’s the message to people who feel like they have just given up, is that things have changed. Maybe it is because we are all acknowledging that this situation cannot continue, we do have to work together, and you’re seeing that coalesce.”

At the Greater Fairbanks Chamber of Commerce luncheon on Tuesday, community stakeholders gave a presentation about the current status of air quality and what steps are happening moving forward. Mike Prax who has been highly involved with bringing Electrostatic Precipitators, commonly referred to as ESPs, to Fairbanks, spoke at the luncheon, along with Jana Pierce of Information Insights, and Chad Shumacher, general manager of Superior Pellet Fuels.

Shumacher says he has been involved with the air quality issue in Fairbanks since 2006 and agrees that the community is now coming back together to combat the issue. “The next ten years after that it was a bicker back and forth where we could never see a mutual connection to address the problem, today I feel like we’ve finally gotten to a point where the differing opinions can actually come together and address this problem and generate a solution,” said Shumacher.

One challenge Shumacher sees in the draft of the Serious SIP which he encourages to change is to have curtailment focus on the emission rate of the stove versus the fuel type. “When a pellet stove produces 10% of the emissions of an EPA certified woodstove, or 20% of the emissions of an EPA woodstove, I’d much rather see them differentiate those in regards to curtailment periods.”

Community members are now waiting to see which proposed regulations by ADEC will be changed or kept in the Serious SIP.

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