KUAC Morning Newscast, 2/24/2012 by Dan Bross, 00:00-01:36
Fairbanks Borough Assembly passes new emissions standards, FDNM 2/24/2012
The vote was 5 to 4 to approve the sponsor substitute as amended. Supporting were: John Davies firstname.lastname@example.org>, Nadine Winters <email@example.com>, Diane Hutchison <firstname.lastname@example.org>, Mike Musick <email@example.com>, and Karl Kassel <firstname.lastname@example.org>. Please send a note of your appreciation. Opposed were: Matt Want, Guy Sattley, Natalie Howard, and Michael Dukes.
The Basics: What the Assembly did Feb 23, 2012
Added to code: the “apples is oranges” amendment to approve coal appliances as though they burn wood, effective today.
Removed from code: staff discretion from the appliance approval process, effective today.
Added to code: 30% opacity limit with the Alaska exception so smoke cannot hide in water vapor, effective Oct 29.
Many residents — mostly women and mothers again! — testified last night against the approval of the Titan 2 coal boiler, against allowing more coal appliances thru Section 2 of 2012-09, and in favor of the 30% opacity standard. Your descriptions of how you and your family have been damaged and harmed at work, home, and school shouldn’t be ignored.
- A Woodriver Elementary School employee related what she was told when she described her problems breathing to the school nurse, “Oh dear. You’ll just have to get on an inhaler like the rest of us.”
- Another resident described how her husband had been sick for two weeks and couldn’t work for a week because of coal smoke in her neighborhood. “The air on Gilmore Street is often heavy with coal smoke.” Her family lives on the same street as the director of the Air Quality Program, and he burns coal. Who can she turn to for help?
- Resident after resident described thick smoke and physical harm they’d endured while dog mushing on the Chena, coming into town, and in their homes and neighborhoods.
Beyond the Basics
The 30% opacity limit seems promising. However, if Proposition A is renewed by citizen’s initiative Oct 2, 2012, Borough Attorney Rene Broker will advise the Assembly to vote to remove this health and safety protection from code, and the opacity safeguard will never take effect. The Assembly has been willing to add enforceable provisions, the 2011 Air Quality Zone Ordinance and the 2010 Air Quality Ordinance. Yet, not one step has been taken for enforcement. Here’s the response given to a recent public record request for all records related to investigation of any air quality complaint, letters sent to any smoke emitter, or any citations: None exist.
Despite numerous requests from testifiers, the Assembly did not discuss the improper approval of Titan 2. That approval was given in secret on Jan 24 and hidden from the public and the Air Pollution Control Commission during their hearing Jan 31. Transportation Director Glenn Miller and Mayor Luke Hopkins were not present and thus could not be questioned.
Assembly members made a single change to Ordinance 2012-09 (sponsor substitute). On line 45-46, the sentence that read: “The appliance shall be so listed by the Borough if:” was removed. In its place a new sentence was added: “The appliance shall be so qualified and listed by the Borough only if:” Apparently, Borough Attorney Rene Broker read the previous phrase to mean staff had free rein to approve the Titan 2 coal boiler without requiring that it meet any emission standard at all. According to Attorney Broker, the new language removes this”discretion.”
Thank you Assembly member John Davies for offering the motion to close this loophole. Too bad staff were told to let the horse (Titan 2) out of the barn first! This discretionary authority loophole wasn’t known to exist until Jan 23, then was used once, on Jan 24, to approve Titan 2 on the sly. Convenient abuse of authority. The original language gave staff no discretionary authority to qualify or list or otherwise approve an appliance that did not meet an EPA emission limit standard.
Approved without discussion was language in the sponsor substitute for Ordinance 2012-09 to allow staff to approve coal-burning appliances as though they burn wood. The phrase “in a similar category” allows an auger-fed coal boiler to be judged by EPA emission limits standards for burning wood or grain. No requirement is included to consider the lead, selenium, chromium, cobalt, manganese, nickel, and arsenic emitted by coal boilers and coal stoves or the health impacts from these toxics. No requirement to consider sulfur and nitrogen oxide emissions which convert to PM 2.5. The issues of toxic metals and secondary PM 2.5 are associated with coal, not wood. This “apples is oranges” amendment is as stupid as it sounds. EPA doesn’t have emission limit standards for coal for good reason; EPA has “significant emission concerns” about coal appliance emissions. As should Fairbanks residents and leaders.
The apples is oranges loophole was opened for a special interest, not to improve air quality or protect the interests of residents who heat with wood. It achieves the intent and purpose of the local coal and coal appliance dealer as described by their attorney, Barbara Schuhumann:
The purpose of the test was to obtain certification by the Borough that this boiler met the air quality standards that apply to wood-fired boilers.” OIT Inc public records request 8-25-2011
As you know, Titan 2 never met the standards because it was tested at low according to OMNI lab. Last night, Dr. Jim Conner reported surprising information: Titan 2 was tested at 65% burn rate, not the 35% rate reported by the EPA certified OMNI lab. OMNI “walked” Titan 2 through its paces June 7, 2011, the OMNI lab’s Oct 14, 2011 and Dec 23, 2011 report drafts stated 35%, and he used that 35% burn rate data to approve Titan 2 Jan 24, 2012. Last night it swells to 65%? Incredible. No written explanation is available to be independently reviewed. Further, Dr. Conner’s epiphany does not answer why Titan 2 was tested at any rate other than maximum as required by EPA to qualify a Phase 2 pellet boiler. It does however affirm why discretionary authority was invented. Staff were unable to use EPA’s standard because EPA’s procedure hadn’t been followed. Effective today, the way is now clear for the next coal boiler to be approved, Titan 1 perhaps. Borough staff would better serve the needs of the public if they stopped to consider the full consequences of their actions, not merely primary PM 2.5. Evidently, this requirement needs to be included in code as staff are not arriving at it on their own.
Close one loophole invented for Titan 2. Open another to allow more coal appliances by pretending coal burns like wood. On the whole it was a surreal commentary on a community that has lost its way. Innocent children are in danger. Residents have been permanently damaged. Our community’s economic future is at risk. And, the highest hope this town can offer is a paper promise to chase smoke next winter, but only in response to complaints, and only if the Borough attorney doesn’t recommend removal of the provision this October.
This outcome is what Assembly member Nadine Winters has called “the art of the possible.” And Transportation Director Glenn Miller has said, “It will get worse before it gets better.” Oh please.