Air Mail Newsletter for August 2016

Air Mail newsletter header

In this issue:

Regulatory updates

EPA proposes Clean Energy Incentive Program details

On June 16, 2016, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency proposed design details for the Clean Energy Incentive Program, an optional component of the Clean Power Plan intended to incentivize early development of clean energy programs and projects, particularly in low-income communities.  Though the Clean Power Plan is currently stayed by the Supreme Court, EPA’s proposal is a response to a request from 14 states, including Minnesota, to provide guidance and information about the CEIP and other aspects of the Clean Power Plan.  

EPA’s proposal outlines several key design elements for the program, including criteria for eligible projects and distribution of the pool of matching allowances/credits between renewable energy and low-income targeted projects. The proposal is open for comments to EPA until August 29th and is available for review here.

EPA proposes revisions to the Regional Haze Rule

EPA’s Regional Haze Program is designed to improve visibility at our nation’s wilderness areas and national parks.  EPA recently proposed revisions to the rule, which describes actions that states must take when submitting regional haze state implementation plans (SIPs) that describe each state’s plan for improving visibility in the wilderness areas and national parks within or near the state’s borders.  The proposed revisions are intended to streamline, strengthen, and clarify the regional haze program. EPA has also issued draft guidance on the program to advise states on how to develop and submit regional haze SIPs for the next implementation period and supplement the proposals in the rule.

The regional haze program is a long-term air planning program, targeting visibility improvements through 2064 via incremental SIPs and progress reports. States have submitted the first round of comprehensive SIPs, which planned for visibility protections through 2018. The next implementation period will target visibility improvements through 2028 and is the focus of EPA’s rule and guidance proposals. The comment period for the rule proposal closes on August 10, 2016; the proposal is available here. The comment period for the draft guidance closes on August 22, 2016; the draft guidance document is available here.

Kick gas at the State Fair!

Eco Experience

The latest and greatest exhibit at the State Fair is all about “kicking gas” and choosing multi-modal transportation options instead.  When you’re at the Fair this year, swing by the Eco Experience to check out our new exhibit on choosing a multi-modal commute and all the environmental, social, and economic benefits of kicking gas!

The transportation sector produces 30% of Minnesota’s greenhouse gas emissions and about 25% of emissions of other pollutants that can contribute to health impacts such as asthma.  Skipping the car commute to work just once a week reduces your commute emissions by 20%.  Think if everyone did that! Biking more and driving less is a small personal change that makes a tremendous impact.

Big impacts call for Big exhibits, like the “world’s biggest bike” you’ll find hanging from the ceiling at the Eco Experience.  You can hop onto a regular bike on the ground below, start pedaling, and watch the gigantic eight-foot bike wheels turn above you.  Then visit our other interactive displays including:

  • Check out the bike corral, where you can learn about different kinds of bikes and other gear to help make your ride smooth and comfortable.
  • Sit in the driver’s seat of a replica bus, use real ticket machines, card readers and fare boxes, and try the art of securing your bike on the bus’s bike rack – without feeling rushed!
  • Explore a map to learn about bus transit options all across the state, not just in the metro area.
  • Vote with a sticker for your favorite mode of transport: public transit, carpooling, biking, or walking. See how you compare!

About the Eco Experience: A partnership between the Minnesota State Fair, the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency, and more than 150 organizations and businesses across the state, the Eco Experience has become the second-most visited exhibit at the Fair. The Eco Experience is the largest environmental event of its kind anywhere in the country. In 2013 the Eco Experience won the People’s Choice Award, selected by fair-goers. Since 2006, more than 3.2 million visitors have attended the 25,000-square-foot exhibit to learn more about clean air and water, saving energy, climate change, recycling, healthy local food, gardening, transportation, green building and remodeling, and other ways to lead more eco-friendly lives.  Learn more here.

Get Involved: You can take part in making Minnesota multi-modal. If you are not a member of the Eco Experience and you would like to volunteer, email

Clean Power – Tell us what’s most important to YOU!

CPP results

The Clean Power Plan is a rule developed by the EPA that gives states targets for reducing carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions from power plants.  Minnesota has a lot of options for how we might comply.  Although the Clean Power Plan is currently on hold in the federal courts, Minnesota is continuing to engage with stakeholders to better inform any future plans.

Please take this short survey (five minutes or less) and tell us what you think is most important for Minnesota to consider in developing our state’s Clean Power Plan. Your input will help inform future energy decisions in Minnesota. Please take a few minutes to give us your thoughts. One response per person, please.

To see what others have said so far, visit our “What we’ve heard” page that summarizes key input from Clean Power Plan listening sessions MPCA conducted around the state earlier this year.

If you would like to provide more detailed comments on the Clean Power Plan in Minnesota, please feel free to email us at any time at

Also, look for our Clean Power Plan “Dotmocracy” survey at this year’s Minnesota State Fair! We’ll have the survey, in poster form, at the Eco Experience for several days throughout the Fair. Thank you for providing your input as we work to develop a plan that works best for Minnesota!

Climate Solutions and Economic Opportunities in Minnesota

CSEO report

In July, the Environmental Quality Board and its member agencies released a report on the multi-agency Climate Solutions and Economic Opportunities (CSEO) initiative exploring policy options to address climate change and grow Minnesota’s economy.  On July 20th, the EQB hosted an event to begin a dialogue on the report’s conclusions and how the state should move toward implementing some of its recommended policies.

The CSEO report found that, while Minnesota has made important strides in our efforts to reduce greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions, we are not on track to meet the goals set in the 2007 Next Generation Energy Act.  (The Act set targets for energy conservation, renewable energy use, and GHG reductions.)  The Report offers key policy options that have the potential to both reduce the state’s GHG emissions and grow jobs and economic opportunities in the state.  Some of the recommended policies include suggestions on how to rely more on renewable energy, increase energy efficiency, provide opportunities for multimodal transportation, and encourage conservation best practices on working lands.

Lt Gov Smith

The July event brought together a mix of citizens and representatives from non-profits, private businesses, and state and local governments to discuss policy options and how Minnesota should move forward to action on climate change.  Lt. Governor Tina Smith opened the event by encouraging Minnesota to push beyond the status quo to seriously address climate change.  Stakeholders added their voices to the conversation with a live survey that highlighted priority efforts like increasing renewable energy, retiring coal plants, and strengthening energy efficiency standards.

Participants and agency commissioners also expressed a strong, shared commitment to incorporating environmental justice into the dialogue.  They expressed the need to ensure that the negative impacts of climate change are not felt disproportionately by vulnerable communities and that the benefits of policies to address GHG emissions are shared by all Minnesotans, especially those who have often been left out of these opportunities in the past.

To learn more about the CSEO effort, visit the EQB’s website.

New website compares Minnesota air quality to national standards

Criteria pollutant data explorer

The MPCA recently launched a new website that allows users to compare Minnesota’s air quality to State and National Ambient Air Quality Standards. The website summarizes air monitoring results for the six criteria pollutants with air quality standards: carbon monoxide, particulate matter, lead, nitrogen dioxide, ozone, and sulfur dioxide. Using interactive maps, charts, and tables, users can explore how air quality varies over time and location.

Leech Lake Band leads the way on community solar energy

Leech Lake Band logo

The Leech Lake Band of Ojibwe is collaborating with other organizations at Leech Lake, the local utility, and the Rural Renewable Energy Alliance to deploy the first community solar installation in Indian Country anywhere in the nation.

The installation will include hands-on training for Leech Lake Band members in the growing solar industry, and the electricity produced will be completely dedicated to benefit low-income Band members.  The Band has already taken major steps to become sustainable on a variety of fronts, including installing 19 solar-powered furnaces across its reservation, initiating a local foods campaign, implementing a large, multi-building energy-savings project, and becoming the first Tribe to be recognized as a Step 2 Tribal Green Step Nation.  To learn more about the Leech Lake Band’s environmental and sustainability efforts, visit their website.

Solar array

Community Shared Solar offers the potential for more people to participate in the renewable economy by centrally locating solar arrays that then supply energy to a sponsoring community.  Community solar can remove many of the obstacles to participating in renewable generation, such as lack of suitable on-site locations due to shading or other issues, or renting rather than owning a home. On an individual level, low-income households spend about 15-20% of their income on energy-related expenses. This puts a strain on already tight budgets and makes families significantly more susceptible to rising energy costs. On a community level, renewable energy provides broad benefits, including local jobs, economic growth, use of local renewable resources for energy production, and lower pollution.

The Rural Renewable Energy Alliance secured funding for the installation at the Leech Lake Reservation. RREAL is a nonprofit organization that works to remove barriers to participation in the renewable energy market by delivering solar energy systems to low-income people and communities.  To learn more, visit their website.

MPCA’s 2016 Pollution Report to the Legislature

Annual emissions and discharge estimates are an important component of tracking progress on reducing air and water pollution and understanding the relative contributions of pollution sources.  Every two years, the MPCA is required to submit a report to the Legislature on the volume of pollution emitted or discharged to the state’s air and water resources.  The 2016 report provides updates on:

  • Greenhouse Gas Inventory
  • Minnesota Criteria Pollutant Air Emission Inventories
  • Air Toxics Emission Inventory
  • Water Quality National Pollutant Discharge Elimination System (NPDES) Discharge Monitoring Reports
  • Water and Soil Resources eLINK database

Click here to read the report.  Comments and questions should be directed to or at the MPCA.

Minnesota cities make strides on climate change

Green Step Cities logo

Across the state, local governments are making strides in reducing their contributions to climate change and air pollution.  One way they are making their commitments known is through joining Minnesota’s Green Step Cities program, a voluntary program to challenge, assist, and recognize cities working to achieve their goals for sustainability and quality of life.  Green Step Cities promotes 29 best practices focusing on cost savings, reducing energy use, and encouraging civic innovation.  Many of these best practices, in categories ranging from land use and transportation to building practices and parks and trails, help cities reduce emissions and protect their citizens from the harmful effects of air pollution.

Two big commitments recently came from Rochester and Cologne.  Rochester is the first city to set a city-wide goal of using 100% renewable energy for its electricity, heating and cooling, and transportation by 2031 (more here), and Cologne is the first city in Minnesota to rely on a community solar garden to power 100% of its city operations (more here).

Learn more about what your city can do on the Green Step Cities website.  Contact Philipp Muessig with questions.

Products for better air quality and a safer work environment


Products and solvents used in degreasing are an important part of many industrial processes.  Unfortunately, many of these products release harmful air pollutants that can impact the health of employees and neighbors.  But not all solvents are created equal – some emit lower amounts of volatile organic compounds (VOCs) that react in the atmosphere to form ozone (smog) and other hazardous air pollutants (HAPs).  However, finding safer products that work is never an easy task.  That’s why the Minnesota Technical Assistance Program is partnering with small businesses around the state to run pilot programs to test products.  

The products listed in the tables in this brochure are considered by MnTAP to be free of HAPs and have lower potential to generate ozone.  The products highlighted in yellow performed as well as more hazardous products for specific tasks at MnTAP pilot project companies. Products without the yellow highlights have formulations similar to the tested products: performance is expected to be similar, but there aren’t test results to prove it yet.

When looking for safer products to use at your business, consider these best practices:

  • Look for products that say non-chlorinated low VOC, 50-state compliant, or non-chlorinated
  • Avoid chlorinated or non-flammable brake cleaners
  • Look at the product’s Material Safety Data Sheet to determine if it contains HAPs like xylene, toluene, ethyl benzene, or methanol
  • Check out the Minnesota Department of Health - Chemicals of High Concern list for other harmful chemicals to avoid.

For more resources, see the recent issues of MnTAP’s Source Newsletter or visit their degreasing website.

If you need additional help sorting through your current supplies or making changes to better products, contact MnTAP by email at or by phone at 612-624-1300 or 800-247-0015.

Health risks from vehicle pollution greater for certain groups

Vehicle emissions

Living near heavily trafficked roadways increases our exposure to air pollution and adversely affects our health. This connection has been shown in many studies over the years.  What has been less well understood until recently is that the health risks of living near traffic are not fairly distributed.

MPCA researchers have been involved in recent studies that suggest the health risks from traffic-related air pollution are borne more heavily by people of color and those with lower socioeconomic status.  A study by MPCA staff published in May 2015 offers a closer look at the risks from what people are breathing along roadways that have a lot of vehicle traffic.

Researchers used data on traffic and cumulative exposures to estimate health risks from traffic across demographic groups.  Not surprisingly, the study shows the greater the volume of traffic and the more time someone spends near that traffic, the higher the exposures and risks.  But what the study really highlights, according to MPCA Research Scientist Greg Pratt, is the environmental inequity of how risks from traffic-related pollution are spread across the population. 

“As you get closer to the urban core, we see households that tend to have fewer vehicles, do less driving, use mass transit more, and yet they are the ones that have the greater exposure to the traffic. So there’s an inequity there – the people who do more of the driving are creating risks for people who do less of the driving,” Pratt said.

The study, “Traffic, Air Pollution, Minority and Socio-Economic Status: Addressing Inequities in Exposure and Risk,” is currently featured on the Be Air Aware website, at

Our Nation’s Air Report

Our Nation's Air Report

The U.S. EPA recently released their latest air quality status and trends report in an interactive web format, available on their website.  “Our Nation’s Air: Status and Trends through 2015” provides an overview of national air emissions and air quality trends. The interactive format allows users to dig deep into the data, providing comparisons of local air quality to national trends.

MnDOT statewide planning update

MnDOT public engagement

This past year, MnDOT traveled around the state of Minnesota to gather input on the future of transportation. The agency received over 12,450 comments across a broad range of geographic and demographic groups. Take a look at what was learned by downloading the executive summary of engagement.

This input sets the stage for new policy and investment guidance for Minnesota’s transportation future. MnDOT has been busy writing the Statewide Multimodal Transportation Plan, the Minnesota State Highway Investment Plan, and the Greater Minnesota Transit Investment Plan. Watch for draft plans coming later this summer and more opportunities to comment.

In the news

Volkswagen consent decree

On July 6, 2016, the Department of Justice published in the Federal Register a notice announcing a proposed partial consent decree to address Volkswagen’s alleged illegal use of emission control “defeat devices” in nearly 500,000 diesel vehicles in model years 2009-2015.  Under the proposed settlement, VW agrees to pay nearly $15 billion – $10.033 billion to compensate consumers, $2.7 billion for a Mitigation Trust Fund to be allocated to states and tribes to use on emission-reduction projects, and $2 billion for zero emission vehicle infrastructure and education.  Under the proposal, Minnesota could receive $43.6 million for projects to repower and retrofit old, high-polluting diesel engines.  For more information, visit the EPA’s website.


New study on air pollution and heart disease

The results of a 10-year study of 6,000 people across six cities was recently released and shows that long-term exposure to air pollution accelerates deposits of calcium in heart arteries.  The study, led by the University of Washington, concludes that higher concentrations of air pollutants can contribute to an increased rate of build-up that hardens the arteries and can lead to heart attacks.  To learn more, check out this article in The Seattle Times.

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