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Comment on Serious State Plan for Air Quality

Fairbanks North Star Borough voters turned over air pollution control to the state last fall in a ballot initiative. Since then, the Alaska Department of Environmental Conservation has been working to devise a plan for improving air quality. New regulations have been drafted and a Serious State Implementation Plan, or Serious SIP, is up for public comment. Formal hearings were held yesterday.

The Serious SIP is a serious document; if you read all the recommendations and the research and regs behind them, you would cover more than 1,000 pages.

But many of the commenters who testified to DEC Commissioner Jason Brune and his staff, like Dr. Owen Hanley, had read the draft and had done their homework.

“One is resources and the second is enforcement power.”

Hanley said DEC needs a lot more staffers to monitor the estimated 14,000 woodstoves in the area where winter air pollution is the worst, called the non-attainment area. And some other commenters also supported the idea that DEC should have the power to ticket polluters.

“I’m Jim Dodson, president of the Fairbanks Economic Development Corporation. We also believe that some kind of enforcement authority will be necessary in the future. We encourage DEC to seek that enforcement authority.”

Lee – “I’m a big proponent of citation authority which we don’t have. You must have enforceable measures in the SIP, or it’s not acceptable in the SIP.”

That was Patrice Lee, of Citizens for Clean Air. She was referring to requirements in the federal Clean Air Act to meet the National Ambient Air Quality Standard or NAAQS.

To meet that standard, suggestions in the draft include: registration of new wood-fired devices, which must be EPA-compliant; new construction and rental units can’t have woodstoves as their primary heat source; lower thresholds for particulate pollution coming out of home heating devices; no visible smoke crossing property lines; and more burn ban days when pollution levels are high.

There are recommendations for polluters both big and small; power plants like those at Golden Valley Electric Association and Fort Wainwright, and coffee roasters like William Rogers of McCafferty’s.

“We need to be individually assessed. And we need to make sure the fix doesn’t break our abilities and our pocketbooks.”

Rogers thanked DEC staff for including coffee roasters in the scoping of the regulations. He had approached the issue with some humor, putting some roasts together at his coffeeshop and labelling the blend “Serious SIP.”

Mike Prax brought a packet of the coffee to the microphone when he came to testify. He used it to make a point about government over-regulation and enforcement.

“I think you should trust people. This is the ‘Serious SIP’ from McCafferty’s Coffee House, (thanks, Mike) It’s just a good idea, when you see someone violating air quality to sit down with a cup of ‘SIP’ and talk about it.”

The friction between regulating polluters to spare the public health and protecting freedom to choose a cheaper source of heat, even if it is more polluting… has informed and colored the issue of Air Quality in the Interior.

Commenters questioned the statistics behind the spikes in reported Asthma cases during days of heavy pollution, whether particulates measured in North Pole originated there or were blown in from other places, and whether the suggested regulations will improve public health.

One suggestion may mean a significant cost to local consumers: changing from Number 2 Diesel fuel to the much cleaner-burning Number 1 heating fuel. Here are Ken Hall, John Denny of GVEA, and Karyn Janssen.

A timeline for finalizing the State Implementation Plan and a place to make written comments are on the DEC website. DEC will be taking comments by email, U.S. mail, fax and on its website until the comment period ends July 26.