Writing at the Federalist on December 30, John Daniel Davidson said that Obama’s Environmental Protection Agency has given residents of Alaska’s frozen interior a choice: Either quit burning wood to stay warm or else. What’s the “else?” According to the New York Times, the area could risk losing federal transportation funds. In other words, the feds are telling Alaskans to either freeze to death or risk losing federal funds.
If only the bureaucrats in Washington DC knew what the wolf-dog knew. But alas, now comes the federal government to tell the inhabitants of Alaska’s interior that, really, they should not be building fires to keep themselves warm during the winter. The New York Times reports the Environmental Protection Agency could soon declare the Alaskan cities of Fairbanks and North Pole, which have a combined population of about 100,000, in “serious” noncompliance of the Clean Air Act early next year.
According to the New York Times:
…forces are now converging to heighten the tension in this seemingly unlikely pollution story. Civil fines by Fairbanks North Star Borough — which includes the cities of Fairbanks and North Pole, with a total population of about 100,000 — could be assessed in coming days against residential polluters. The E.P.A. could declare the entire area to be in “serious” noncompliance of the Clean Air Act early next year, with potentially huge economic implications, including a cutoff of federal transportation funds.
Like most people in Alaska, the residents of those frozen cities are burning wood to keep themselves warm this winter. Smoke from wood-burning stoves increases small-particle pollution, which settles in low-lying areas and can be breathed in. The EPA thinks this is a big problem. Eight years ago, the agency ruled that wide swaths of the most densely populated parts of the region were in “non-attainment” of federal air quality standards.
That prompted state and local authorities to look for ways to cut down on pollution from wood-burning stoves, including the possibility of fining residents who burn wood. After all, a declaration of noncompliance from the EPA would have enormous economic implications for the region, like the loss of federal transportation funding.
There’s no replacement for wood stoves in those areas, he added.
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“Heating oil is too expensive for a lot of people, and natural gas isn’t available. So they’ve got to burn something. The average low temperature in Fairbanks in December is 13 degrees below zero. In January, it’s 17 below. During the coldest days of winter, the high temperature averages -2 degrees, and it can get as cold as -60. This is not a place where you play games with the cold. If you don’t keep the fire lit, you die. For people of modest means, and especially for the poor, that means you burn wood in a stove—and you keep that fire lit around the clock,” he added.
And, the Times notes, Alaskans aren’t sitting still or rolling over:
Mr. Hamlin, the E.P.A. official, said his agency was definitely not trying to take away anyone’s wood stove, or make life more expensive. But he said the Clean Air Act, passed by Congress in 1970, requires a standard of breathable air for all Americans. The E.P.A. was given the job of enforcing that standard.
“We don’t want to be telling people what to do, but the standard is what it is, and we want to work with you to be able to get there,” he said.
Critics of government intervention, led by a local representative in the Alaska Legislature, Tammie Wilson, said they were ready to fight back with a lawsuit if the borough started fining homeowners for smoke violations, especially if their homes are far from the monitor that is recording air quality in the community. The North Pole air monitor regularly records some of the highest local concentrations of particulate pollution in the nation.
“They’re allowing themselves to be bullied by the E.P.A.,” said Ms. Wilson, a Republican. “And there’s going to be an uproar. We already have a big group of people who will make sure there is money to take it to court so that we can finally prove that the way they’re doing air quality doesn’t make any sense.”
EPA bureaucrats, Davidson said, may understand “facts,” but they don’t understand the significance of them.
“Burning wood when it’s -20 degrees outside will indeed cause the smoke to descend, and breathing such air is admittedly not very healthy. What the EPA doesn’t accept, or even grasp, is man’s place in the universe: in the face of Alaska’s deadly cold interior, there’s only so much we can do. So we build a fire,” he said.
Maybe these EPA bureaucrats should be forced to survive a winter in Alaska to understand the situation…
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