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By DAN JOLING
ANCHORAGE — The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency has approved a state of Alaska plan to address “moderate” violations of federal air pollution law around Fairbanks, Alaska, even as state and local officials work on a plan for more stringent measures.
The Fairbanks North Star Borough in winter regularly exceeds limits for fine particulate, a mix of solid particles and liquid droplets that can be inhaled deep in the lungs. Fine particulate can cause premature death in people suffering heart and lung diseases.
A major source of particulate is wood-burning stoves, which many Fairbanks residents use to warm homes instead of more expensive fuel oil. Hills surrounding Fairbanks create a bowl effect. Particulate also is trapped by inversions, layers of warmer air that caps cold, dirty air and keeps from dissipating.
The EPA in 2009 classified the borough as an area with “moderate” violations of limits for particulate. The agency was required to review progress after six years, and if problems lingered, consider reclassification to a “serious” status. That occurred in June.
The EPA meanwhile missed deadlines to approve a state cleanup plan under the “moderate” classification and clean air advocacy groups sued. The EPA in a settlement agreed to accept or reject the plan by Monday.
The two groups that sued — the Sierra Club and Alaska Community Action on Toxics — in testimony on the plan called it “incomplete, poorly supported, largely unenforceable.” Their attorney, Kenta Tsuda of EarthJustice, an environmental law firm, said Tuesday that approval of a plan at least moves the bureaucratic process forward.
“It worked in the sense that it got the agency unstuck,” he said.
Borough officials, the state Department of Environmental Conservation and the EPA acknowledged that the plan would meet requirements of federal law for moderate violations but would not solve the Fairbanks particulate pollution problem.
Borough and state officials have begun working on a more stringent cleanup plan. EPA officials from Seattle will travel north next month to consult with them.
The plan for moderate violations requires consideration of “reasonably available” emissions control measures. A plan for serious non-attainment requires implementation of the “best available” emissions control technologies and measures.