Last week, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency awarded $10 million in Targeted Airshed Grant funding to the Alaska Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC) to help the Fairbanks North Star Borough improve air quality in the nonattainment area.
EPA’s Targeted Airshed Grants are used to support local clean air projects in areas facing the highest levels of ground-level ozone and fine particulate matter, commonly known as smog and soot. Since Alaska’s first Targeted Airshed Grant in 2017, the EPA has provided nearly $42 million to help the State and Borough improve air quality.
The borough will use the grant funds to reduce direct fine particulate matter emissions in the Fairbanks North Star Borough nonattainment area through multiple projects: removing and replacing solid-fueled heating devices, replacing oil heating appliances with natural gas or propane, and expanding the availability of natural gas to underserved communities via mainline extensions. This is the first time that Targeted Airshed Grant funding has been awarded to expand access to natural gas.
“The state, the borough, and local leaders are making progress on improving air quality for local communities,” said EPA Region 10 Administrator Casey Sixkiller. “We are all working together to develop the right approach to get to healthier air, and this round of EPA’s Targeted Airshed Grant funding will further bolster the community’s efforts to reduce wood smoke pollution and improve air quality in the Borough.”
Wood smoke remains the largest source of fine particle pollution in the Fairbanks North Star Borough. The borough’s existing woodstove conversion program has removed or converted 464 woodstove or other solid fuel-fired heating devices in the non-attainment area. This grant is estimated to remove or convert an additional approximately 335 solid-fueled heating devices and oil heating appliances to natural gas or propane.
DEC is partnering with the Interior Gas Utility in order to extend its natural gas distribution lines to more areas within the nonattainment area with a priority focus on communities with environmental justice concerns. This expansion will broaden the depth of eligible applicants for solid fuel burning appliances and oil to gas conversion and further assist in the reductions of PM2.5 and SO2.
Criteria for determining where to extend natural gas main lines will include location within an environmental justice area, distance from the existing main line, and concentration of consumer interest. A combination of these factors will ensure that the main lines that are extended as a result of the grant funding will reach residents who are ready to switch to natural gas. It will also focus expansion to serve communities with environmental justice concerns.
“All Alaskans deserve clean air and warm homes, and this funding can help our Interior residents achieve both,” said Representative Peltola. “This $10 million grant will help the Fairbanks-North Star Borough continue the progress they have made in tackling this issue and shows what can happen when the federal government works with Alaskans rather than against us. I’m grateful for this partnership that is focused on helping our communities achieve shared goals rather than punishing Alaskans for relying on the fuels we have available. That’s also why I am especially glad to see $5 million dedicated for supporting natural gas hookups in the community. Alaska’s natural gas resources could play a major role in both decreasing the cost of energy and reducing pollution from particulate matter, and I will continue to push for affordable, Alaska-made energy solutions to benefit our communities.”
“While this grant targets natural gas and fuel oil, funding remains from prior grant awards for switching out current woodstoves for more efficient woodstoves. DEC’s Division of Air Quality has worked diligently to produce a list of approved clean burning woodstoves to inform the Fairbanks North Star Borough Wood Stove Change Out Program,” said Alaska Department of Environmental Conservation Acting Commissioner Emma Pokon. “We appreciate the support for the FNSB community and our air quality team to produce solutions that allow Alaskans to affordably heat their homes and achieve healthier air for all.”
Borough Mayor Bryce J. Ward said, “The support and aid of the Environmental Protection Agency and the State of Alaska Department of Environmental Conservation are greatly appreciated as we continue to navigate this complex journey to attain the national PM2.5 standard and have cleaner air for all borough residents. This award of the Targeted Airshed Grant will continue to help reduce emissions in the Fairbanks non-attainment area by assisting homeowners to upgrade existing home heating devices to gas-fired ones.”