2011 Oct. 2: AK Fairbanks: COMMENT on Proposition 2 and the future of Alaska
Date: Sun, 2 Oct 2011 11:31:41 -0400
Proposition 2 (…) outcome could help decide the next decade of air quality control in the Fairbanks North Star Borough.
Proposition 2, if approved, would introduce emissions standards for wood burners and ban certain devices in the non-attainment area starting in October 2012. The regulations aim to help the borough and state meet air quality standards for the most populated areas of the borough, which includes Fairbanks, North Pole and problem areas like near Woodriver Elementary School, that were found to be in non-attainment of standards set by the Environmental Protection Agency in 2006.
Five years ago, the EPA, acting under the 1963 Clean Air Act, tightened air quality standards for small particulate matter, called PM 2.5, to 35 micrograms per cubic meter throughout the country. Parts of the borough were found to have a 24-hour average of 43 micrograms of PM 2.5 per cubic meter when the change was made. That finding created what is now known as the non-attainment area, the only are in Alaska to be in violation of the EPA’s air standards.
Alaska and the EPA
The state has until December 2012 to submit a plan to the EPA that shows it can get air pollution in the non-attainment area under control by 2014. The plan also includes the state’s plan to get pollution under control statewide. If it doesn’t, the state risks strict federal regulations or losing federal highway funding.
The state plan will include an inventory of programs such as the borough’s voluntary woodstove change-out program and regulations such as those contained in Proposition 2 or potential regulations created by the Borough Assembly or the state. The borough had regulations on the books last year, but voters repealed those in part last fall.
Essentially the state plan, known as the State Implementation Plan, will try to convince the EPA that the borough and state have the problem under control and are on their way to improving the air, said borough air quality manager Jim Conner, who is working closely with the SIP development.
“If the local government isn’t able to pull all the plans together, then the state will look at crafting a solution,” she said.
Delaying the feds?
Preliminary modeling shows current measures alone won’t let the borough meet attainment by 2014, said Conner, the borough’s air quality director.
There are a multitude of actions the EPA can take depending on what it sees happening in the non-attainment area.
The agency can choose to accept the State Implementation Plan and would check back in at the non-attainment deadline, 2014, or later if an extension is won, and look at the three-year average of PM 2.5 pollution. If those results come in under the federal air quality standards, the area goes into a maintenance state with continued monitoring, but no further regulations would be needed.
A more likely situation is that either the local government or the state will push through a set of regulations to ensure that Alaska’s State Implementation Plan is acceptable to the EPA.
And in that case, it comes down to who writes the regulations and creates the voluntary programs, said Sylvia Schultz, the chairwoman of Healthy Air Now for Prop. 2. She argues that the ballot measure her group has proposed is a way to have regulations on the books in order to fend off federal oversight.
But while some have said Proposition 2’s regulations amount to federal oversight, proponents of Proposition 2 and EPA officials stress that the end goal is to make the air cleaner and safer for all. Jeff Philip, an EPA spokesman, said the Clean Air Act was introduced as a way to improve air, not as a way for the federal government to encroach on state’s rights.
“That is the key,” he said, “The whole point of these regulations is to get the air quality to a better place so people can breath clean air and delaying that delays people’s access to good clean air.”
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