Do you want more or less thick wood and coal smoke choking your neighborhood, smothering your child’s school and playground, stifling your workplace, and hanging low over roads you use? If you want more smoke, new rules are coming just for you.
If you want less smoke, you need to speak strongly against this new ordinance, 2012-09.
What: FNSB Air Pollution Control Commission hearing on proposed Ordinance 2012-09, see agenda
Where: Borough Administration Center Chambers, 809 Pioneer Road, Fairbanks
When: Tuesday, January 31, 2012 at 6:30 pm
As written, 2012-09 doesn’t move us forward to PM 2.5 attainment. It also won’t help reduce nuisance smoke and may make it worse. The Borough can do better. We all have a right to breathe healthy air. Encourage the Borough to consider amendments to code that the state can adopt to lower emissions. Not amendments that enable more coal burning or opacity standards that hide smoke behind water vapor.
Oppose changes that take us backward and make our smoke problem worse, not better. Encourage the Commission to take us a forward direction out of the smoke. Insist on strong rules and enforcement to reduce the smoke and tell them why healthy air matters to you and your family. Amendments to Borough code need to move us forward without delay on our town’s primary air quality needs: 1) reduce the nuisance and suffering caused by winter smoke pollution and 2) get us out of the economic consequences of EPA PM 2.5 nonattainment.
The Air Pollution Control Commission will consider testimony in making their recommendation to the Mayor. The Mayor will then offer the ordinance to the Assembly for a final decision. 2012-09 was introduced by Mayor Luke Hopkins and Assembly members Nadine Winters and John Davies.
If you can’t come to testify, email your concerns to the APCC:
Catherine Cahill <firstname.lastname@example.org>
Lawrence K Duffy <email@example.com>
Deborah Rinio <firstname.lastname@example.org>
Gwen Holdmann <email@example.com>
Mark Sherman <firstname.lastname@example.org>
Kathleen Hook <email@example.com>
CC: FNSB Air Quality Program staff Todd Thompson <firstname.lastname@example.org>
Points to Make about the 4 Amendments:
2012-09 applies only to solid fuel burning appliances in the nonattainment area. Recommendations in CAPS:
- Section 2, Lines 55-56: Opens the nonattainment area to more coal burning appliances. WITHDRAW.
- Section 3, Lines 61-64: Adds a limit on visible emissions to 50% opacity for more than 15 minutes or 20 minutes after initial firing of a cold unit. Responsible wood burners do it cleaner and faster. AMEND TO: 30% opacity for over 15 minutes. Clearer to understand, cleaner to breathe.
- Section 3, Lines 65 -70: Adds Method 9 for measuring opacity but doesn’t include the Alaska exception. Unenforceable: cannot measure the opacity of dense smoke plumes. REVISE FIRST SENTENCE TO INCLUDE ALASKA EXCEPTION: Visible emissions of exhaust gases from wood-fired heating devices shall be observed at the point of release to the ambient air regardless of the presence of condensed water vapor. All other conditions specified in Method 9 of Appendix A to 40 CFR 60 shall apply. [Language from Alaska Air Quality Control Plan Testing Procedures, 1983.]
- Section 5, Lines 77-79: Adds $100 fine for first violation of opacity limit, $150 for second violation. SUPPORT. Likely not much of a deterrent, but better than nothing.
Background on the Amendments in 2012-09:
Amendment #1 [Section 2, Lines 55-56]: “The appliance is tested by an accredited independent laboratory, or other qualified person or entity approved by the borough, establishing that it meets the EPA emissions limit standard appropriate for that appliance or an emissions limit standard equivalent to that of a listed appliance.” Effective date: the next day after approval by the Assembly.
What’s Wrong with Amendment #1: Artfully dodging the word “coal,” this loophole allows more coal-burning devices to be installed in the Fairbanks and North Pole nonattainment area (nonattainment boundary map). Current code prohibits installation of solid fuel devices not meeting EPA’s device standards in the nonattainment area. [FNSB Code Chapter 8.21.020 A.1.b] Because EPA has no approved coal-burning stoves or boilers, Borough code prohibits all installations of coal appliances in the nonattainment area after July 2010. Existing coal burning devices have sparked dozens of unresolved smoke complaints from residents. The noxious stench along Badger Road, Farmer’s Loop, the Steese Highway, or Chena Pump confirms the rising levels of smoke from burning dirty sub-bituminous coal, akin to London’s deadly “fog” in the latter 1800s.
Who benefits from Amendment #1? A local coal appliance dealer and his attorney have been on the Borough to get the Titan II coal boiler approved. [OIT records request 8-25-11.] This loophole is step two of three to get there. North Pole Coal’s website (in itsi bitsi font) assumes the Assembly has it already passed: “The Titan II model is permitted to burn within the NSFB (sic).” Made in Canada, a Titan II coal boiler [314KB] sells for $21,500 in Canada, installation extra. If you enjoy following the money, OIT and North Pole Gravel/North Pole Coal were two of the top three donors against Prop 2 in 2011 (Interior Alaskans Opposed to Prop 2 7-day report). Step one was another pro-coal amendment approved March 2011 by the Assembly that allows coal to be burned “even if it is not recommended for use by the manufacturer of the stove.” [Chapter 8.21.020 C.1.o.] Step three will be for Borough staff to approve the Titan II or other non-EPA qualified boilers. Approval will hinge on testing by the OMNI Lab of Portland.
The OMNI Lab testing deserves its own post, but OMNI’s initial draft report shows significant problems. Major problems include challenges with methodology (i.e. they had a hard time getting the tests to work), and they ran the tests only once, with no replicate sampling. Therefore, they don’t know if the results are repeatable. An elementary student’s science fair experiment with fewer than 3 replications would get no better than a red ribbon. Rushing to enable staff to open the door for one type of expensive coal boiler has seriously distracted from the intended purpose of the $300,000 OMNI study, which is to collect data for modeling needed to build the PM 2.5 control plan. Limited device testing for modeling purposes should not be misused to approve devices, especially when so many people have reported complaints about coal burning. Even with its flaws and unreliable results, the OMNI study found that the Titan II produces 4 times as much PM 2.5 as an oil stove. Approval of the Titan II would allow homeowners and businesses to replace their clean burning oil furnaces with the much dirtier Titan II.
Amendment #2 [Section 3, Lines 61-64]: “No person shall cause, permit or allow the emission from a solid fuel burning appliance in the non-attainment area to create opacity greater than 50 percent for a period or periods aggregating more than 15 minutes in any hour except during the first 20 minutes after the initial firing of a cold unit.”
What’s Wrong with Amendment #2: Plain and simple, we deserve better. Amendment #2 allows smoke plumes of 49% opacity, hour after hour, day after day. This high limit harms responsible wood burners by prolonging the rampant smoke pollution and drives us inevitably into burn bans on all heating with wood. A lower opacity standard will move us forward. Anchorage uses a 20% opacity limit [Anchorage Code Chapter 15.35.050], and they’re not battling nonattainment. Heavy smoke plumes are unhealthy nuisances in our town and interfere with meeting PM 2.5 attainment.
What is opacity? Opacity is the degree to which an object seen through a plume is obscured, stated as a percentage.
Amendment #3 [Section 3, Lines 65 -70]: “Methods and procedures specified by the EPA in 40 CFR 60 Appendix A Reference Method 9 (visual determination of the opacity of emissions from stationary sources) shall be used to determine compliance with this section. Smoke visible from a chimney, flue or exhaust duct in excess of the opacity standard shall constitute prima facie evidence of unlawful operation of a solid fuel appliance.”
What’s Wrong with Amendment #3: This amendment was an attempt to establish an enforceable standard to help combat our winter smoke problem. The authors should be commended. However, the amendment has a fatal flaw. The proposed amendment uses EPA Method 9 (Appendix A of40 CFR 60) with no exception: “Opacity observations shall be made at the point of greatest opacity in that portion of the plume where condensed water vapor is not present.” (p. 312) Method 9 works fine with dry fuels, but with high moisture fuels such as wood in cold climates, the only possible way to measure opacity is at the point of emission without worrying about water vapor. This is the Alaska exception to Method 9. In Alaska, DEC has had this as policy since at least 1983: “Visible emissions of exhaust gases from wood-fired heating devices shall be observed at the point of release to the ambient air regardless of the presence of condensed water vapor. All other conditions specified in Method 9 of Appendix A to 40 CFR 60 shall apply.” [From DEC’s Air Quality Control Plan, see Observe Woodsmoke at “Point of Release” aka Chimney Top.] In 2008, Juneau included the Alaskan exception in their ordinance: “opacity observation shall be made at the point of greatest opacity in any portion of the emissions plume without regard to the presence or absence of condensed water vapor.” [Juneau Code Chapter 36.40.080(b)] Smoke opacity in Anchorage is also taken “at the point of emission.” [Anchorage Code Chapter 15.35.050]
What will happen if this change is adopted? Absolutely nothing. It cannot reduce our air pollution. Because it will be technically impossible to identify opacity in the most toxic, highest opacity winter plumes, no violation will ever be found. Fairbanks is the only area of the state in PM 2.5 nonattainment. Amendment #3 keeps us there.
Review the photo below to understand why EPA Method 9 doesn’t work with woodsmoke in an Interior Alaskan winter. Technically, using Method 9, there’s no violation. Yet the smoke is dense, strong smelling, and sickens nearby students, teachers, and neighbors. Applying the Alaska exception from the Alaska Air Quality Control Plan and determining opacity at the chimney top, DEC would find a violation. For political reasons, DEC has not. This device is an EPA Phase 2 qualified Central Boiler 2300 with a ClearStak CS-100 catalyst device paid for by the state [see FDNM article by Dermot Cole]. Yet this is the fourth winter with it smoking for hours and hours every day. The borough needs the proper enforcement tools if there’s hope for our health and future.
Amendment #4 [Section 5, Lines 77-79]: Adds $100 fine for first violation of opacity limit, $150 for second violation.
Will Amendment #4 Work? Maybe. The folks who think the current $30 fine for burning prohibited fuels (like rubber, railroad ties, and wet wood) is too steep will go nuts over this. So maybe the amount has value as a deterrent. No one likes fines, but over $6.1 million spent to reduce PM 2.5 since 2010 is just a drop in the bucket towards the total costs if “control measures” are limited to voluntary compliance. No joke. This smoke is getting expensive. The key is to support applying the fine when necessary, so polluters begin to pay a price for smoking out our town. (Note that Amendment #4 doesn’t take effect until October 29, 2012 because of Prop A.)
Why Not Leave it to the State?
To bring our air into PM 2.5 attainment by December 2014, the state plans to submit its State Implementation Plan, or SIP, to EPA in June 2013. To meet the 2014 deadline, PM 2.5 design values from 2011, 2012, and 2013 must average less than 35 micrograms/cubic meter. [What is a “design value”? See previous post: How EPA’s Design Values Exclude Air Pollution Days.] At best, the SIP will have just half of 2013 to sufficiently lower the 3-year average ‒ a recipe for prolonged PM 2.5 nonattainment. We question the wisdom of gambling on the state’s SIP to bring PM 2.5 levels down in 6 just months. All efforts are needed to control critically high levels of air pollution happening now, this winter. It is a moral imperative and will help lower the average before its too late.