2010 March 12: AK Fairbanks: How are the earth, atmosphere & cultures all connected?
Friday, March 12, 2010
ESSENTIAL QUESTION: How are the earth, atmosphere and cultures all connected?
Want to make Alaskans really mad to the point of bearing arms? Just threaten their way of life and wait for a swift reaction!!
It would seem as if this week’s topic was ripped right off the front page of the Fairbanks Daily News-Miner! The borough mayor,Luke Hopkins, had proposed a pollution control plan that at the last minute he sent to a citizens commission for review. Seems the federal government is mandating a reduction in PM 2.5 levels (an air pollutant known to cause health problems). Fairbanks currently exceeds the federal guidelines for fine particulate matter. Violators would face fines up to $500. However, the program provides federal subsidies for those who swap dirty stoves for cleaner ones. Another sore point was a no-burn list including plywood,construction debris,particleboard,garbage and tires inside the borough’s non-attainment area which encompasses 83,000 people. The plan would also
limit the sorts of solid-fuel burning devices that can be installed with existing devices being grandfathered in. According to the mayor, "We are trying to prohibit actions that will cause our air quality to be worse. We have to quit putting in poor-quality stoves and outdoor hydronic heaters, and we have to burn seasoned wood properly."
This drew overwhelming critical public testimony since wood smoke is the largest single contributor of PM 2.5. At a five-and-a-half-hour meeting on Tuesday, March 9th (ending around midnight) the group gave "general support" to the chimney smoke ordinance but not without a laundry list of recommended changes. The original Feb. 25th assembly meeting to introduce the plan was met with even more rudeness,catcalls, and hostility from people who showed up proudly and publicly bearing sidearms! Many supporters were intimidated by such a display. As Paul Costello (writer of a recent letter to the editor) lamented; "What kind of message does that behavior send to those folks whose kids are affected by the polluted air that surrounds their home or school and who care about clean air? Do you seriously think they will testify in the future knowing that the opposition is going to show up armed?
According to Dermot Cole (a resident of Fairbanks) "there have been 100 air pollution complaints with forty-two about outdoor wood boilers and 51 about smoke health issues, coal dust and open burning. He continues by stating ;"there’s got to be a way of dealing with the pollution problem without screaming ‘wood smoke’ in a crowded room. Despite exaggerated claims to the contrary this is not about banning wood stoves, preventing people from heating their homes or penalizing people who burn firewood responsibly. It is about reducing the pollution level ..and responding to instances where people are infringing on the rights of their neighbors by blanketing them with smoke!"
This entire debate strikes too close for comfort since I will start serving students at WoodRiver Elementary School following spring break. The school has outdoor boilers nearby which prompted teachers to comment;"the classroom air is extremely bad due to the smell of woodsmoke…students were covering their noses with their shirts at their desks because the smell was so strong. These stoves do not belong right across the street from an elementary school." I struggle with upper respiratory issues that I hope won’t be aggravated by the mere act of going to work! I think the saddest comment of all came from a 33 year resident of North Pole who so eloquently stated "the winter smoke is so bad that I am looking at the real possibility that I will have to sell my house and give up my residency."
(Photos 1 & 2: Air pollution on Ft. Wainwright, Photo 3: Newspaper photo of protesters outside of borough meeting, Photos 4 & 5: Interesting skies in Homer, AK)