Today, Citizens for Clean Air, Alaska Community Action on Toxics, and the Sierra Club sent notice of intent to sue the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) for missing a fourth deadline in four years for addressing Fairbanks’s air pollution problem. The groups called on the agency to meet its obligations under the law to require the Fairbanks North Star Borough to address its pollution controls because it is overdue in meeting basic clean air standards.
The Fairbanks North Star Borough has the worst fine particulate matter air pollution in the nation — with levels spiking far in excess of the next most-polluted area and over twice the recommended limit for unhealthy air. The air pollution problems have worsened since 2009, when state and municipal officials were first advised that soot and smoke levels in Fairbanks were unhealthy and dangerous.
The type of fine particulate matter pollution prevalent in Fairbanks — 2.5 micrometers or less in diameter — has been found to cause a wide range of serious health problems, including asthma attacks, chronic respiratory disease, reduction in lung function, hospitalizations and emergency room visits for cardiopulmonary diseases, cancer, and even premature death. Fine particulate matter air pollution is a particular danger to children, reducing lung development, causing asthma, and impairing the immune system. The elderly and those with chronic disease also face heightened risks.
Sources of PM-2.5 in Fairbanks include outdoor burning; wood- and coal-burning heating devices; automobiles and other vehicles; and industrial facilities like coal-fired power plants.
The Clean Air Act requires areas like Fairbanks that fail to meet clean air standards to achieve compliance within six years after the date they were first designated as failing to meet those standards. Fairbanks missed this deadline years ago. The state has also repeatedly missed subsequent deadlines for establishing plans to bring Fairbanks into compliance. EPA last year designated the Borough as a “serious non-attainment area,” triggering an obligation for the state to impose stricter pollution control requirements. But, yet again, the state missed the deadline for coming up with an action plan to address the pollution; and EPA, too, has failed to enforce this requirement. Citizens for Clean Air, ACAT, and the Sierra Club are now notifying EPA of their intent to sue to enforce this latest in a string of missed deadlines.
The groups have already been forced to sue EPA three times in the past four years. In April 2014, the groups sued EPA for failing to move the state planning process for cleaning Fairbank’s air forward. This helped prompt the State of Alaska to submit an overdue plan to address air pollution to EPA at the end of January 2015.
In June of 2016, the groups sued EPA for its failure to approve or disapprove the state’s plan by the statutory deadline. Later in 2016, the groups sued to compel the agency to perform its duty under the Clean Air Act to determine that the Fairbanks North Star Borough had failed to reach air quality standards and to reclassify the borough as seriously out of compliance and thus subject to stricter pollution controls. The groups now have announced their intent to sue EPA for failing yet again to move the process forward after the state missed its latest deadline to submit an updated plan to address Fairbanks’s serious non-compliance with air quality standards.
Citizens for Clean Air, Alaska Community Action on Toxics, and the Sierra Club submitted a notice of intent to sue to EPA if the agency does not fulfill this mandatory duty. The groups are represented by non-profit environmental law firm Earthjustice’s Alaska office.
The following are statements from the groups:
Patrice Lee, Citizens for Clean Air: “The borough and state didn’t get the job done in more than 10 years, so dangerous levels of pollution remain in the air we all have to breathe. Until the EPA enforces the Clean Air Act, the health effects of fine particulate matter will continue to rain down on our children, the elderly, the disabled, pregnant women and everyone who has a pre-existing condition, known or unknown. Fairbanks deserves better.”
Pamela Miller, Executive Director, Alaska Community Action on Toxics: “The people of Fairbanks have suffered the ill effects of dangerous levels of air pollution for far too long. It’s time for the agencies to do their job and protect the health of the community. This problem can and must be solved.”
Jeremy Lieb, Associate Attorney, Earthjustice: “The Clean Air Act sets clear deadlines for planning and achieving compliance with air quality standards. The EPA and the state have repeatedly missed these deadlines, showing disregard for the health consequences of continued serious air pollution. We will continue to take legal action necessary to hold the agencies to their obligations to clean up the air in Fairbanks.”