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Fairbanks-area residents face new controls on pollution from heat sources

FAIRBANKS — Residents of the Fairbanks area who burn wood, coal and oil for heat are facing new air pollution control measures.

The draft rules made public by the state Tuesday are expected to result in additional bans on burning wood and coal in Fairbanks North Star Borough, as well as higher fuel oil and electric bills, the Fairbanks Daily News-Miner reported.

New rules are required under the federal Clean Air Act. The deadline is the end of December, officials said.

The proposed regulations still require the signature of Republican Lt. Gov. Kevin Meyer to become law.

The Fairbanks borough encompasses a federal nonattainment area. The EPA designates nonattainment areas where air pollution levels have not met national air quality standards for any of six common air pollutants.

The Fairbanks area each winter regularly is out of compliance for fine particulate, a mix of solid particles and liquid droplets that can be inhaled deep in the lungs. It can cause premature death in people with heart and lung diseases. The young and the elderly are especially susceptible.

Wood smoke contributes up to 80 percent of Fairbanks' fine particle pollution. Residents burn wood as a cheaper alternative to fuel oil.

The goal is to reduce smoke pollution in Fairbanks and North Pole by 5% annually with attainment expected in 10 years, officials said

Thousands of area homes would need to switch to No. 1 fuel oil beginning in July 2020, which will increase costs.

The Golden Valley Electric Association will be asked to burn No. 1 fuel oil on bad air days, while owners of older-model wood stoves, coal-fired heaters and outdoor hydronic heaters will have until December 2024 to have them removed and destroyed.

"It's probably going to be a little bit uncomfortable," borough Mayor Bryce Ward said.

The Alaska Department of Environmental Conservation will accept public comment on the regulation package through July 26.

Air pollution enforcement will focus on voluntary compliance, said conservation commissioner Jason Brune.

“Right now, the extent of our enforcement has been warning letters,” Brune said.

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