It’s a more and more familiar refrain or so it seems: Particle pollution plagues a region. Regional level decision-makers accurately identify the problem, but conclude the problem is too big for them to tackle on their own. This forces their hand, turning to a higher-up for help. The higher-up in turn orders regional jurisdiction to draw up effective mitigating plan to bring area into compliance, the higher-up to decide to accept or reject from plan review. Regional decision-making board balks, insisting that the regional jurisdiction can’t go it alone, that problem’s scope is too big to handle sans help, in effect, sending the ball back into the higher-up’s court. The higher-up in regional jurisdiction’s opinion fails to act accordingly and in a timely manner and, as a result, regional authority files suit in a court of law.
This, in essence, outlines the situation in the community of Fairbanks in America’s 49th state – Alaska.
The Earthjustice organization describes the situation in its fittingly named “Fairbanks Community Groups, Frustrated Over Lack of Action to Address Dirty Air, Notify of Intent to Sue EPA for Missing Its Third Deadline in Two Years: The Fairbanks North Star Borough has the worst episodes of fine particulate matter air pollution in the nation, but EPA has yet to take adequate action to improve air quality,” press release.
“Today [Aug. 3, 2016], Citizens for Clean Air, Alaska Community Action on Toxics, and the Sierra Club sent notice of intent to sue the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) for missing a third deadline in two years for addressing Fairbanks’s air pollution problem,” Earthjustice in the press release announced. “The groups called on the agency to meet its obligations under the law to require the Fairbanks North Star Borough to address its pollution controls because it is overdue in meeting basic clean air standards.
“The Fairbanks North Star Borough has the worst spikes in fine particulate matter air pollution in the nation—with levels spiking far in excess of the next most-polluted area and over three and a half times the recommended limit for unhealthy air. The air pollution problems have worsened since 2009, when state and municipal officials were first advised that soot and smoke levels in Fairbanks were unhealthy and dangerous.”
And, where, specifically, is all this pollution coming from? The Earthjustice organization in the release identifies the sources: the residential, transportation and industrial sectors; namely from “outdoor burning; wood- and coal-burning heating devices; automobiles and other vehicles; and industrial facilities like coal-fired power plants.”
Pervading in the Fairbanks area is fine particulate matter pollution – PM 2.5 (tiny particles less than 2.5 micrometers in diameter) – from these sources. PM 2.5 can lead to respiratory and heart disease, asthma, lung cancer and even premature death and facing heightened risk of being affected by such are those with chronic disease and the elderly, according to Earthjustice. “Fine particulate matter air pollution is of particular danger to children, reducing lung development, causing asthma, and impairing the immune system.”
“The Clean Air Act requires areas like Fairbanks that fail to meet clean air standards to bring themselves into compliance within six years of being deemed non-compliant,” Earthjustice emphasized. “Fairbanks has missed this deadline—in fact, it doesn’t even have an approved plan to bring itself into compliance—and the law requires EPA now to designate the Borough as a ‘serious non-attainment area,’ triggering stricter pollution control requirements to finally bring the area into compliance. EPA has missed its deadline to re-designate the area, and the groups are notifying the agency of their intent to sue to enforce this latest in a string of missed deadlines.”
The EPA was sued by the groups twice, once in April 2014 for failure to push the state planning process forward for cleaning Fairbanks’s air and once again this year in June, this time, for failing, by the statutory deadline, to accept or reject Alaska’s plan, according to Earthjustice in the release.
“Citizens for Clean Air, Alaska Community Action on Toxics, and the Sierra Club submitted a notice of intent to sue to EPA if the agency does not fulfill this mandatory duty,” Earthjustice added. The Alaska office of the not-for-profit Earthjustice environmental law firm is representing the three groups.
Middle image above: U.S. National Institutes of Health: National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute