FAIRBANKS, Alaska (AP) — The state of Alaska is calling on the federal government to split Fairbanks and North Pole into separate smoke pollution non-attainment areas.
The state’s request comes as the Fairbanks North Star Borough faces tougher rules for smoke emissions, mainly due to worsening emissions in the North Pole area.
A burn ban was issued in North Pole when PM2.5 pollution spiked on Nov. 12.
“This request does not come lightly,” Alaska Department of Environmental Conservation Commissioner Larry Hartig said in a statement. “PM2.5 air pollution causes public health impacts and must be addressed. However, our current information suggests that there are significant differences between the western and eastern halves of this non-attainment area. Recognizing these differences allows for air quality plans and controls that best fit the situation for each portion of the Fairbanks-North Pole area.”
The dividing line between the two areas would be along Badger Road.
While the east side of the borough is struggling to decrease pollution in the area, smoke pollution on the borough’s west side is improving. The west side must continue to make progress for the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency to agree to separate non-attainment areas.
The borough-wide non-attainment area is expected to be downgraded from “moderate” to “serious” in 2016. If the request to separate the areas is approved, the tougher rules that are expected to come next year would only apply east of Badger Road in North Pole.
North Pole Mayor Bryce Ward, who opposes dividing the non-attainment area, said he has doubts that the EPA will approve the state’s request.
“I don’t think that the EPA is going to go with it as we are all part of the same air shed,” Ward said. “My concern is it creates an environment where it becomes a very isolated issue instead of more of a community issue.”
A response from the EPA could take up to 18 months or longer.