Update October 4th: See YouTube video of a resident's outdoor wood boiler in this post.
|Non-attainment area enclosed by purple line; click HERE for larger version|
The proposed Healthy Air Protection Act, designated Proposition 2 on the ballot for the October 4th, 2011 Fairbanks-North Star Borough Election, continues to be the most debated issue in Interior Alaska. Proposition 2 would prohibit wood-fired hydronic heaters and coal burning appliances, add coal to the list of prohibited fuels, and remove the Interior/Healy coal exception from prohibition against using material not intended for use by the manufacturer. It would soften the financial burden upon those required to replace their heating systems by offering property tax credits for air quality improvements, and up to $7,500 for the removal of an outdoor hydronic heater. The changes only apply to non-attainment areas within FNSB, which just happen to be the most heavily-populated areas of the Borough, and if passed, the measure would begin to take effect on October 29th, 2012. Other election issues previously presented in my September 19th post.
Interior Alaska Voter Guides also provides some very useful local analysis. Its webmaster is skeptical of Proposition 2.
The Primary Players: Here are the primary advocacy groups involved in the debate:
-- Healthy Air Now: The primary proponent of Proposition 2; they circulated petitions and secured enough signatures to get it on the ballot. Their primary selling points are the health issue and the possibility that if FNSB voters don't authorize local restrictions, either the state or the Feds may step in and impose more draconian restrictions from the top down; the EPA has already set a tentative deadline of 2014 for the borough to meet attainment standards. In addition, the latter case was further strengthened by the announcement that the EPA has proposed a $218,700 civil penalty against Eielson AFB for environmental violations found during a July 2010 inspection; as usual, the EPA won't disclose specifics because of "confidentiality". Healthy Air Now has raised $18,008.32 in contributions, most in the form of small donations from citizens, but their two biggest donations came from unions: the Fairbanks Building and Construction Trades Council and the Fairbanks Central Labor Council.
-- Interior Alaskans Opposed to Prop. 2: Led by Rep. Tammie Wilson (R-North Pole), they oppose Prop 2 based upon the contention that it’s the state's responsibility to enforce air quality rather than the borough. This group has raised $18,455 in contributions, primarily from local businesses. Update September 29th: Rep. Wilson is now touting a device manufactured by ClearStak known as the CS-100, a catalyst that can be added into the smokestacks of existing heaters to burn up PM 2.5 small-particulate pollution. It is proven to reduce pollution by up to 80 percent, although the results have come primarily from other areas.
-- Responsible Wood Burners for Limited Government: A last-minute group of opponents organized by North Pole resident and hydronic heater owner Jim Slicker. They represent owners of hydronic heaters whose systems would be jeopardized by passage of Prop 2. They recently filed an injunction asking that Prop 2 be removed from the ballot. Their primary objection is that Prop 2 bans an entire class of heaters -- wood-fired hydronic heaters -- despite the fact that not all hydronic heaters are equally polluting. They cite the fact that the EPA provides guidance on compliant hydronic heaters as additional support for their position. Update October 4th: Judge Paul Lyle rejected the attempt to remove Proposition 2 from the ballot.
Proponents of Prop 2 are better-organized and launched their campaign earlier than opponents. In contrast, the opposition is fragmented into two groups and may have waited too long to get revved up. Jim Slicker would have done better to fold his efforts into Tammie Wilson's group rather than launch his own group.
The Fairbanks Daily News-Miner has done a first-rate job in chronicling this issue in detail; numerous articles are accessible at this link. On September 25th, they presented answers to the most commonly-posed questions about Proposition 2. Here are the three most preplexing questions:
-- How many heaters might have to be replaced as a result of Prop. 2? A survey conducted by the borough estimates there are only a 90 to 150 hydronic heaters within the non-attainment area, or five percent of heaters in the borough. That small number accounts for about 50 percent of all wood smoke contributing to the PM 2.5 pollution, according to a study done by the Cold Climate Housing Research Center.
-- Aren’t some hydronic heaters and coal-burning devices certified by the EPA? Not quite. Some hydronic heaters were approved through EPA’s Voluntary Hydronic Heater and Fireplace Programs, which is largely based upon manufacturer claims, but they are not “certified” by EPA’s much more rigorous Wood Heater New Source Performance Standard, which focuses on wood stoves. Hydronic heaters are not part of the EPA’s primary focus because they are not widely used throughout the country.
-- Anchorage has more stringent standards, and they don't seem to have a problem with it. Anchorage has an additional advantage not available to Fairbanks; universal access to the most inexpensive heating fuel, natural gas. Fairbanks does not have universal access to natural gas, thus is more dependent upon wood heating.
The Bottom Line: Proposition 2 is well-intentioned; there are people in Fairbanks whose medical conditions are aggravated by wood smoke. Fairbanks does have severe inversions during the winter which may warrant more intrusive action than most other communities. But banning an entire class of heaters regardless of their efficiency is excessive. A better way would be to set a sensible pollution standard, and allow any form of heating which does not routinely violate it. If I lived in Fairbanks, I'd be voting No on Proposition 2.