Alaska lawmakers seek delay in federal requirement for use of lead-free aviation fuel

By: Yereth Rosen, Alaska Beacon

A small plane heading to the Talkeetna airport flies by the eastern side of Denali on the evening of March 9. A newly introduced resolution in the Alaska Legislature seeks more time for aviators in the state to comply with a national deadline for a transition to lead-free fuel. (Photo by Yereth Rosen/Alaska Beacon)

Members of the Alaska Legislature are pushing back against a pending federal regulation that would require a switch to lead-free aviation fuel by 2030 in most of the nation.

A resolution introduced Monday by the House Transportation Committee calls for an Alaska-specific delay of that rule until 2034. The measure, House Joint Resolution 29, cites the state’s heavy dependence on aviation, the scarcity of a good substitute fuel, especially in rural areas, and the cost burdens of the pending requirement.

The resolution “urges the federal government to collaborate with the Alaska Congressional delegation to incorporate into the Federal Aviation Administration Reauthorization Act language extending the state’s leaded fuel exemption to 2034 to provide crucial time and support for a smooth transition that would ensure the safety and wellbeing of all residents of the state.”

The House resolution, introduced only nine days before the Legislature’s scheduled adjournment, follows efforts already launched by the delegation.

Sen. Lisa Murkowski and Sen. Dan Sullivan, both R-Alaska, had previously convinced colleagues in the Senate to allow the same four-year delay that the state House resolution seeks, said Joe Plesha, a Murkowski spokesperson. But later, through the Senate budgeting process, the Alaska date was changed again and is now proposed for 2032 instead of 2024.

Small planes that fly to outlying villages on the Seward Peninsula and elsewhere in Western Alaska are lined up at the Nome airport on Sept. 2, 2021. (Photo by Yereth Rosen/Alaska Beacon)
Small planes that fly to outlying villages on the Seward Peninsula and elsewhere in Western Alaska are lined up at the Nome airport on Sept. 2, 2021. Aircraft using leaded fuel are the dominant sources of lead pollution in the atmosphere, according to the Environmental Protection Agency. (Photo by Yereth Rosen/Alaska Beacon)

The new EPA regulation is still in the works. The agency in October released a final determination concluding that lead in aviation fuel endangers public health, especially the health of children.

“The science is clear: exposure to lead can cause irreversible and life-long health effects in children,” EPA Administrator Michael Regan said in a statement released at the time. “Aircraft that use leaded fuel are the dominant source of lead emissions in our air.”

For children, there is no safe level of lead exposure, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Even low levels negatively affect children’s intelligence and ability to pay attention.

Nationally, the transition to lead-free aviation fuel has been in the works for several years. It has been supported by many in the aviation industry, including the Aircraft Owners and Pilots Association, which characterizes itself as a cooperating organization in the EPA effort.

Use of leaded gasoline for cars and trucks ended nationally in the mid-1990s, according to the U.S. Energy Information Administration.

Meanwhile, the EPA is seeking to reduce Alaskans’ exposure to lead in other ways.

The agency on Monday announced a $28.65 million grant to identify and remove lead pipes that may be contaminating drinking water. The funding is from the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act of 2021 and is made available through EPA’s Drinking Water State Revolving Fund.

The agency’s Pacific Northwest regional office also announced similar grants to Washington state, Oregon and Idaho.