[UPDATE: 2013-35 was approved, 8 to 1.]
How long until public health becomes a priority?
Until the cows come home.
– Melissa Simpson, Fairbanks, comment posted on Clean Air Fairbanks
The Assembly will take up the second pilot program related to air pollution Thursday, April 11.
Scheduled for Public Hearing (and vote)
2013-35, Enhanced Solid Fuel Change Out Program, $650,000. Targets three hot zones with reimbursements up to $10,000 plus $500 or $1,000 in cash for purchasers of a pellet stove or pellet boiler.
Limitations to Ordinance 2013-35:
3) Funding is not for home or school air filtration systems or bus tickets to safety, but to increase already generous payments, currently up to $3,000, to as much as $10,000 to incentivize wood and coal burners. Change-out payments in current code are the highest in the nation, if not the world.
4) Program participants may be reimbursed for purchase and installation of an oil burning boiler or furnace, but cash payments of $500 or $1,000 are for pellet stove and pellet boiler purchasers only, thus may not be used to offset heating oil expenses.
5) With a single exception, no state, federal, or local code limits installation of any coal stove, outdoor wood boiler, barrel stove, or other highly polluting solid-fuel heating device. The exception applies only within the City of Fairbanks: installation of hydronic heaters is prohibited after June 8, 2009. Everywhere else in the borough including in the PM 2.5 nonattainment area is an install-anything zone, lacking any restrictions on what types of devices may be installed. For just over $100 and an old drum, anyone can smoke out the neighborhood.
Assembly member Michael Dukes installed a Harman TLC-2000 coal stove last fall in his home in the Rectangle of Death. No provision in the proposed ordinance prevents installation of the most noxious, poisonous-smoke-spewing boiler next to any school in the borough. Or next to your home or workplace. As long as it is outside the Fairbanks city limits, it’s allowed. Highly polluting waste oil burners can be installed anywhere, anytime.
Who loses under 2013-35? Residents who want to participate in the change-out program but live outside priority hot zones. The $650,000 cost comes from previous state grants, likely EPA pass-thrus, that would otherwise be spent for the existing change-out program for which anyone (resident or business) in the PM 2.5 nonattainment area is eligible. The program will touch 2/3 fewer residents than the existing program because the higher payouts ($11,000 under 2013-35 vs $3,000 previous cap) will burn through available funds far more quickly.
Could it help? If it helps one child avoid an asthma attack, that’s vital for that child. But what will prevent program participants from taking the money and turning right around and installing a highly polluting device? Absolutely nothing.
Is it fair and smart? Why don’t purchasers of an oil furnace receive cash payments just like purchasers of a pellet stove or pellet boiler? FNSB testing at Omni Lab in Portland found a 40 times higher 10 fold reduction over burning a fuel oil furnace, see runs 1 and 40 of Omni Lab draft Appendix A. The additional benefit of going with a cleaner oil-fired unit is that it won’t be shut down during a burn ban.
Can it be sustained? With state oil tax cuts on the way and federal cutbacks from the sequester taking effect, funding sources for the change-out program are likely a thing of the past. A case could be made to immediately suspend the change-out program to preserve current funds to use after Prop 3 expires Oct. 2014 and the Borough can establish limits on installation of highly polluting devices. Then there’s no backsliding, or need to pay the same program recipients again and again.
But will it pass? The Assembly will pass it just so it looks like they’re doing something to help.
Any recusals this time? Assembly members with a solid fuel burning device in the hot zone neighborhoods should be required to recuse themselves. Assembly member Michael Dukes has a coal stove in his Rectangle of Death neighborhood. If Assembly member Van Lawrence in Hamilton Acres has a solid fuel burning device eligible under the enhanced change-out program proposal, he should be required to recuse himself as well. However, as the ordinance does not specify what areas are specifically targeted, there may be an attempt to let assembly members skate on recusals. Assembly members were briefed on the “hotspots” during the FNSB powerPoint presentation on March 21, 2013, pages 5 and 6, so there’s really no question which neighborhoods benefit from the targeted payments.
What’s in 2013-35 for Assembly Member Dukes? Assembly member Dukes can remove his new coal stove, install a pellet hydronic, and get reimbursed for up to $10,000 plus get $1,000 in cash. Then he can turn around, sell the pellet boiler on Craig’s List, buy another coal stove, and spend the $1,000 on a winter’s supply of coal. Clearly a conflict of interest and lucrative for him personally. Assembly member Dukes talked up the installation of his coal stove with Kim Murphy of the LA Times:
“People seriously were in a panic. It really became a question of heat or eat,” said Michael Dukes, a member of the Fairbanks North Star Borough Assembly who recently installed a coal stove — only slightly less polluting than a wood stove — in his home in North Pole’s rectangle of death. “I was paying twice what my mortgage was just to heat my home.” — Fairbanks area, trying to stay warm, chokes on wood stove pollution Wood-burning stoves give the Fairbanks, Alaska, area some of the worst winter air pollution in the country, 2/16/2013.
When will polluters stop being rewarded? When will the pollution stop increasing? With consequences, instead of rewards, pollution levels will quickly decrease and public health will be protected. In the meantime, raising children is and will continue to be hazardous, especially in Assembly member Dukes’ neighborhood, the Rectangle of Death in North Pole.
On Education and Incentives vs. Enforcement: All the education in the world won’t overcome the economic payoff that directly benefits those who choose to heat with highly polluting but very cheap methods. It’s a modern-day tragedy of the commons, forfeiting the air you need to breathe. Incentives for those who use highly polluting fuels may show progress in the short-term, but the costs of those incentives and the air quality improvements are borne by all. A few benefit directly. It’s only a matter of time before the public tires of throwing public funds at a special interest group. Enforcement, on the other hand, is self-supporting, sustainable, and deters pollution so harm is prevented. Only in Fairbanks, using the tail end of funds from a bygone era, can incentives be so generous and the effective, affordable method — enforcement — practically nonexistent.