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Blowing smoke: Ship emission rules rely on weak evidence

Fairbanks Daily News-Miner editorial

Waters off part of Alaska’s coast don’t belong in the so-called “emission control area.” The best evidence of that is the poor evidence used by the federal government to justify the move.

The Parnell administration is right to challenge the rules promulgated by the Environmental Protection Agency that require low-sulfur fuel within 200 miles of much of Southeast and Southcentral Alaska. The state filed an amended complaint in court last week detailing the EPA’s weak evidence.

The EPA rule raises the cost of living in Alaska and damages the economy.

We understand why crowded shipping lanes off the coast of the Lower 48 require additional pollution controls.

But Alaska doesn’t have the level of traffic or the air problems afflicting those regions.

The environmental justification put forward is flimsy, much of it based upon what appears to be a poorly drafted document sent to EPA in 2008 by an employee of the Department of Environmental Conservation after he was contacted by EPA.

In that document, the employee quoted a study that showed that a study in the Tongass National Forest in Southeast Alaska had shown elevated sulfur levels in the lichen.

From that study, the state employee made the irrational and unwarranted conclusion that caribou more than 1,000 miles away on the Alaska Peninsula were being harmed because lichen are important for caribou and the untested “lichen biomass” might be improved with new regulations on fuel.

The EPA later admitted that the caribou claim discussion “may have been misleading,” but it brushed off any suggestion that its decision to include Alaska was wrong.

It also defended the silly argument it put forward that although much of Alaska enjoys air quality that surpasses federal standards, poor air quality in Fairbanks in the winter is somehow relevant to what ships are burning at sea.

EPA did air quality modeling to judge impacts on the East and West coasts of the Lower 48 as part of its research on emissions, but it did not do air quality modeling for Alaska.

It acted without any serious effort to determine the environmental and economic consequences. Given this serious research failure, the state court fight makes sense.

“We remain hopeful that the federal government will take appropriate actions to stop the enforcement of the ECA in the waters off the coast of Alaska and not impose additional costs and lost jobs on Alaskans without justification,” Attorney General Michael Geraghty said in a news release last week.

Fortunately, with the state’s lawsuit, he’s doing more than hoping.

Read more: Fairbanks Daily News-Miner – Blowing smoke Ship emission rules rely on weak evidence

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