Fairbanks group sues EPA over pollution plan

FAIRBANKS, Alaska (AP) — A coalition of Fairbanks residents and community groups in Alaska’s two biggest cities have filed a civil lawsuit against the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency

The groups call on the EPA to force the state to produce a plan addressing pollution in the Fairbanks North Star Borough.

The groups ask the U.S. District Court in Seattle to declare EPA administrator Gina McCarthy in violation of the Clean Air Act because the state has failed to submit the plan.

A deadline for an improvement plan was due in December 2012, but it has been repeatedly pushed back.

The groups want the EPA to publish an official finding that the state has failed to submit the plan, which triggers a firm, two-year deadline.

“It’s time,” said Patrice Lee, from the Fairbanks group Citizens for Clean Air. “A plan to remove soot and smoke from the air to improve air quality in Fairbanks is long overdue.”

The plaintiffs in the lawsuit argue that both EPA and state officials have violated the Clean Air Act by shirking their legal responsibilities in addressing the air-quality problem in Fairbanks because the agency failed to issue a “finding of failure to submit” six months after the state missed the deadline to submit its plan.

Cindy Heil of the Alaska Department of Environmental Conservation, which is in charge of coming up with the state’s implementation plan, declined to comment on the lawsuit but said the state is continuing to work with the borough on finalizing a draft air-quality plan that can be released for public review in the near future.

“We want to be thorough and thoughtful in our review of the feedback received from the community and ensure that all options raised are considered in establishing any final state regulations,” she wrote in an email.

A five-year study by the Alaska Department of Health and Social Services showed that for every 10 microgram increase in fine particulate matter levels in Fairbanks, the number of people admitted to Fairbanks Memorial Hospital with stroke-related symptoms increases by 7 percent.

Long-term exposure to high levels of particulate matter have also been linked to the early onset of dementia and heart disease, said Dr. Owen Hanley, who has more than 30 years of experience treating respiratory diseases in Fairbanks.

“(Fine particulate matter) affects anyone in Fairbanks who breathes,” Hanley said.

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