Air Mail Newsletter for February 2017

Air Mail newsletter header

In this issue:

Regulatory updates

Exempt Source Rulemaking

The MPCA is requesting comment on possible amendments to the Minn. R. chapter 7008 rules for conditionally exempt stationary sources and conditionally insignificant activities. The Request for Comments was published in the January 9, 2017, State Register (41 SR 862), and the public comment period is open through 4:30 p.m. on February 23, 2017.

The notice of Request for Comments is available by visiting the MPCA Public Notice Webpage. Information about the MPCA’s proposed concepts for amending the rules is available on the rulemaking webpage and includes a January 19th webcast that further explains the proposed changes.

What the rule amendments are about:

The main purpose of this rulemaking is to clarify how small emitting activities at a facility are addressed in permits. Chapter 7008 describes these activities as “conditionally exempt stationary sources” and “conditionally insignificant activities.”  The MPCA is also considering exempting more categories of low-emitting facilities, such as auto body finishing shops and woodworking manufacturers.

The planned rule amendments will continue to streamline the administrative requirements for the lower-emitting small source facilities while complying with applicable state and federal requirements. The main benefit of the rule amendments will be administrative, but they will also ensure that the rules limiting air emissions are federally enforceable. As part of this effort, the MPCA is also considering changes to the insignificant activities list in chapter 7007.

The MPCA may make additional minor amendments to other air-related rules, including chapters 7002, 7005, 7007, 7008, 7009, 7011, 7017, and 7019.  Amendments that fall within the scope of this rulemaking will be identified and considered during the rulemaking process.


Requesting air permit reissuance materials – no more “colored sheets”

Due to the MPCA’s transition to its new data system, Tempo, whenever a permittee requests their reissuance materials, the MPCA will now provide them with their information from Tempo. Permittees will receive a PDF of reports called AQ Subject Item Details. Anything referencing the facility description information from the MPCA’s old system, Delta, (sometimes referred to as “colored sheets” on permit forms) is now outdated and you should instead refer to the AQSI details reports. All reissuance permit forms will reference these reports in place of the facility description information as well. Please note that you should still print the reports on colored paper.

The MPCA wants your opinion

The MPCA invites you to weigh in on a new term to describe air and water pollution.  While everyone is familiar with the types of pollution that come from regulated pipes or smokestacks, that’s not where most pollution comes from.  Instead, most of the pollutants in our air and water come from other sources – cars, wood burning, farm runoff, to name just a few.  The MPCA has called this “nonpoint source” pollution, but that doesn’t help most people understand what we’re talking about.

We need a better term that helps convey the wide variety of these “other” sources, and reminds people that all of our choices have pollution impacts.  So we’ve thought about what terms might help Minnesotans make that connection.  We’ve narrowed it down to two.  Please help us pick by indicating what makes the most sense to you using the link below.

Note: To improve understanding, the first time in any context when this term is used, whether in print or verbally, we would provide examples: “…such as the cars we drive, our agricultural practices, and the backyard fires we burn.”

Find the survey here.  Please respond by February 23rd.  We’re looking forward to seeing what works best for you.  Thanks much for your help!

Air pollution emissions in our neighborhoods

Minnesota’s GHG emissions down but still not expected to meet greenhouse gas goal

The MPCA recently released its biennial report on greenhouse gas emissions from activities throughout the state.  Overall, greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions in Minnesota have decreased slightly – about 4%, from 2005 to 2014. The Next Generation Energy Act set a goal for Minnesota to achieve a 15%reduction from 2005 to 2015.  Although 2015 data is not yet available, at this pace we will not have met the 2015 emissions reduction goal. Minnesota has achieved significant reductions in some areas, especially in the electricity generation sector where emissions decreased 17% from 2005 to 2014, but emissions have increased in other areas.

Although emissions have only decreased slightly, our actions have prevented the increase in emissions that would have occurred if we had continued on the path we were on in 2005. However, without significant additional effort, Minnesota will not achieve the second Next Generation Energy Act goal — a 30% reduction in GHG emissions by 2025.  To learn more about what could be done to achieve our Next Gen goals, check out the state’s 2016 Climate Solutions and Economic Opportunities report.

Learn more about GHG emissions in Minnesota by visiting the MPCA’s interactive website.

GHG reductions compared to Next Generation Energy Act goals

MPCA will use $47 million VW settlement to clean up diesel pollution – tell us what matters most to you!

Red Volkswagen car

Minnesota will receive $47 million over a 10-year period to mitigate the excess, illegal nitrogen oxide (NOx) pollution created by Volkswagen 2.0- and 3.0-liter diesel engines manufactured between 2009 and 2015.  The MPCA is seeking input to guide the use of this funding: tell us what matters most to you.

Tell us what you think!

To help guide the development of Minnesota’s plan for selecting projects to fund with settlement money, the MPCA is seeking public and technical stakeholder input.  We encourage you to submit written comments to and attend one of our stakeholder meetings: 

  • St. Paul: February 23, 1-2:30 p.m., MPCA office at 520 Lafayette Rd. N.
  • Minneapolis: March 6, 6:00-8:30 p.m., Plymouth Congregational Church, 1900 Nicollet Av. S.
  • Brainerd: March 15, 6:30-8 p.m., MPCA office at 7678 College Rd., Suite 105, Baxter

To submit comments, learn about upcoming public meetings, and find out more about the VW settlement and what it means for Minnesota, visit the MPCA’s VW settlement webpage.  And sign up to get email updates on the settlement here.

What the settlement is about

VW cheated vehicle emissions standards by using software to turn off emission controls during normal driving and turn them back on only during EPA emission testing.  The federal government successfully sued the automaker. Part of the settlement goes to states to clean up the excess NOx emissions and part goes to owners of VW vehicles to compensate them for their defective vehicles.  The $47 million is Minnesota’s share of the mitigation funding.  (Payment to vehicle owners will be handled separately.)

The violating engines exceeded NOx pollution standards by 30-40 times.  This means that the 9,300 offending VWs in Minnesota emitted the same amount of NOx as 300,000 normal cars over a period of roughly seven years.  

NOx contributes to fine particle pollution, and combines with volatile organic compounds to create ground-level ozone. Both can trigger respiratory attacks such as asthma and bronchitis. NOx on its own causes inflammation of the airways, decreased lung function, and increased response to allergens.

The VW mitigation settlement has strict process guidelines and a specific list of eligible project categories.  For the most part, projects must replace or retrofit older heavy-duty diesel engines with cleaner technology.  These projects are similar to the work MPCA has been doing through its clean diesel grant program since 2008.  The settlement also allows Minnesota to use up to 15% of the funding for developing electric vehicle infrastructure.

The air we breathe

The Air We Breathe report cover image

A reminder to check out our recently released report on all things air quality in Minnesota, called The Air We Breathe.  Learn about:

  • The state of Minnesota’s air quality
  • How air quality affects our health
  • Who is affected by poor air quality Inequities in exposure and health outcomes related to air quality
  • What the MPCA and our partners are doing to improve air quality around the state

Explore a new webpage summarizing the report and download full report from there, too.

Funding available for small businesses to reduce emissions!

Green Business logo

Minneapolis’s Green Business Cost Sharing Program provides funds that help businesses improve their processes while reducing emissions.  The program invests in local businesses that reduce pollution in Minneapolis to help create a healthier place to live, work, and play.

The Green Business Cost Sharing Program is currently accepting applications for funding.  Grants are available up to $100,000 for each selected business to help switch to greener processes. There are also $2,500-$20,000 cost share awards available for energy efficiency projects that go beyond utility rebates. Minneapolis has partnered with 30 businesses since 2012, saving them thousands of dollars and tons of pollution.  Applications are due by April 21.

The MPCA Small Business Environmental Improvement Loan is available to small businesses throughout the state interested in purchasing equipment to reduce emissions and meet or exceed environmental regulations.  Businesses can use the loan to provide the match needed to participate in the Minneapolis Green Business Cost Sharing Program.  Loans range from $1,000 to $50,000.  Additional information is available on the website link above.

Project Stove Swap

Project Stove Swap logo

On January 31st, Environmental Initiative and Minnesota Power launched Project Stove Swap at Duluth Stove and Fireplace.  Project Stove Swap is a wood stove change-out program that provides financial incentives for residents and organizations who heat with wood in 17 northeastern Minnesota counties to replace outdated technology with cleaner optionsUpgrading outdated appliances is a cost effective way to proactively and voluntarily reduce air pollution, improve health outcomes, and help local businesses.  The program also educates consumers on the importance of burning clean dry wood to reduce pollution from wood smoke.

Today, most of our air pollution comes from smaller, dispersed sources, so efforts like Project Stove Swap help us address the challenges of cleaning up this wide variety of sources. Project Stove Swap is just one of several efforts underway to help achieve Clean Air Minnesota’s goal of reducing emissions from human-caused sources of fine particulate matter (soot) and ground-level ozone precursors (smog) by 10%. 

Learn more about Project Stove Swap here.

Wood smoke equipment emissions comparison

2015 permitted facility air emissions data now available

Permitted facility data

The MPCA’s web tool for point-source air emissions data has now been updated with 2015 data. Dynamic maps, charts, and tables help users explore emissions of criteria air pollutants, air toxics, and greenhouse gases released by facilities across Minnesota.

Use this tool to:

  • Explore types and volumes of air pollutants emitted by permitted facilities
  • Identify highest-ranked emitters for specific pollutants
  • Investigate changes in quantity of pollutants emitted over time
  • Compare emission trends by industry type.

Click here to view the web tool.

Apply to become a GreenCorps host site!

GreenCorps members

The MPCA will soon be accepting applications from organizations interested in participating as host sites for the 2017-2018 year of the Minnesota GreenCorps program. Applications from eligible organizations interested in hosting Minnesota GreenCorps members are anticipated to open in February. When the application period opens, all subscribers to the agency’s GreenCorps contact list (subscribe here) will be notified and receive instructions on how to apply.  Visit the Minnesota GreenCorps website to learn more about this program and opportunity!

Preview of the upcoming program year

The MPCA plans to place up to 40 full-time GreenCorps members with various host sites for the 2017-2018 program year. Members serve approximately 40 hours a week for 11 months beginning in September 2017 through August 2018. Eligible host organizations include public entities (local, regional, state, tribal), school districts, not-for-profit institutions of higher education, and 501(c)(3) nonprofit organizations. Organizations may apply for Minnesota GreenCorps members who will serve on projects in the areas of:

  • Air quality (including energy conservation and green transportation)
  • Waste prevention and recycling
  • Green infrastructure (including local foods, stormwater management, and urban forestry)
  • “Living green” outreach

Operation of the 2017-2018 program year is contingent on the MPCA’s receiving funds. Confirmation of funding may not be available prior to the application deadline.

Putting the brakes on hazardous brake cleaner in Duluth and Minneapolis

Parts cleaner

The Minnesota Technical Assistance Program (MnTAP) recently reached out to the Duluth-area automotive repair industry to encourage shops to switch to brake cleaners with lower volatile organic compounds (VOCs) and containing no hazardous air pollutants (HAPs).  MnTAP first secured commitments from three major local retailers to carry the safer products.  They then visited 50 auto repair shops, where the team discussed the hazards of degreasing products and alerted them to a grant opportunity to purchase water-based parts washers.  The team left free samples of brake cleaners that were safer than those currently in use at the shops, along with a voucher for another free case.  Thirty shops agreed to test the alternatives in their operations and 13 have redeemed the vouchers to date.  If all the shops that received samples continued to use them, toxic air emissions into the surrounding community could be reduced by up to 5,000 lbs.  The project was funded through a U.S. Environmental Protection Agency grant focused on improving indoor air quality.  Learn more about choosing alternative degreasing and cleaning products on the MnTAP website.

This month, MnTAP launched a new air quality campaign in the Phillips neighborhood of Minneapolis, also aimed at encouraging adoption of cleaning products with lower VOCs and HAPs.  Auto repair shops, janitorial services, and healthcare facilities are among the businesses MnTAP will be approaching to take part in the project. For more information, contact Jane Paulson: 612-624-1826 or

Maintaining your car is good for the environment

Man changing a tire

Did you know that maintaining recommended tire pressure in your car can save you 3% on fuel consumption? Fill up those tires to save money and prevent air pollution.  For more tips, check out

Update on Northern Metals

Northern Metals facility

Northern Metal Recycling operates a metal shredder on the west bank of the Mississippi near the Lowry Avenue Bridge in North Minneapolis.  Ambient air monitors operated by the MPCA near the facility have documented exceedances of air quality standards since 2014.  The monitors show elevated levels of airborne particulate and heavy metals including lead.  MPCA has been working to address this situation, first by adding a second monitor in 2015, and then in 2016 asking the district court to issue an injunction against the facility and taking administrative steps to revoke the company’s air quality permit. 

In August, the district court ordered the company to temporarily shutdown part of the operation.  Later, the judge in the separate revocation matter required the MPCA and the company to mediate as part of the court process.  The company had vigorously opposed both legal processes, but in an apparent about-face when they came into mediation, they indicated a willingness to settle.  Discussions between the MPCA, City of Minneapolis, and the company have been ongoing since then.

A settlement is not final yet, but the broad outlines include:

  • Closing the shredder in Minneapolis and moving it to a new, non-metro location
  • A civil penalty and reimbursement of MPCA costs
  • Directing money to the communities most affected by the company’s emissions to mitigate potential health impacts (e.g., pollution reduction or community health projects)

The city held two public meetings in January to gather input on how to use any community benefit funds the company may provide.  The city and MPCA hope to finalize a settlement in February. To learn more about air quality in the area, visit the MPCA's website.

Metropolitan Council releases list of funded transportation projects

Metropolitan Council logo

On January 25, the Twin Cities Metropolitan Council finalized the list of transportation projects selected to receive funding through its Regional Solicitation, a process for selecting local transportation projects to receive federal transportation funds. The solicitation typically occurs every two years and projects are selected using criteria and a process approved by the Transportation Advisory Board to reflect regional needs and priorities.

Ten project application categories fund a wide range of projects from highways and bridges to technology improvements and bike and pedestrian trails.  Transportation is one of the largest sources of air pollution in Minnesota and the Regional Solicitation provides an opportunity to fund projects that encourage multimodal transportation, reduce congestion, and improve our air quality.  In particular, the categories of travel demand management and transit system modernization target projects that have the explicit aim of improving air quality, typically through reducing congestion. Other projects emphasize reducing single-occupancy vehicle travel, overall vehicle miles traveled, idling time, and other innovative measures.

A full list of selected projects as well as a map are available on the Met Council website.

Getting kids excited about science and the environment

Little Earth School Choice and Resource Fair

The MPCA wants to get kids excited about science and the environment!  On January 19, MPCA staff attended the Little Earth School Choice & Resource Fair to show kids how their interests can become a career. MPCA staff shared information on Minnesota’s air quality and how the state collects air data.  The kids were interested to learn what the MPCA does, how our work effects them, and how they can get involved.  If your school is interested in having MPCA staff come share information about our work, contact Melanie Preczewski at

Little Earth School Choice and Resource Fair learning about air monitoring

MnDOT releases its long-term transportation plan

Statewide Multimodal Transportation Plan cover image

The Minnesota Department of Transportation (MnDOT) recently released its Statewide Multimodal Transportation Plan. The SMTP is Minnesota’s broad policy plan for transportation, including all types of transportation and transportation partners. It includes current focus areas such as preserving the existing system while considering strategic improvements with a high return on investment, advancing safety through the Toward Zero Deaths initiative, and considering social, environmental, and economic impacts. New emphasis areas include:

  • Strengthening the relationship between transportation planning and land-use decisions. The plan emphasizes the importance of considering the full context for transportation decisions, including the effects on built and natural environments.
  • Advancing equity. The plan emphasizes the need to increase the diversity of the transportation industry as well as provide for a more open and inclusive decision-making process that advances equity for low-income communities, communities of color, and persons with disabilities.
  • Making a clearer commitment to environmental issues. The plan calls for increased efforts to reduce the negative environmental impacts of transportation, such as setting a target for greenhouse gas emissions consistent with the Minnesota Next Generation Energy Act.

MnDOT also recently approved its 20-year State Highway Investment Plan.  Both final plans are available online at

In the news

2016 was the warmest year on record

New data from the National Aeronautics and Space Administration and National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration show that in 2016 Earth’s surface temperatures were the warmest since modern recordkeeping began in 1880.  2016 is the third year in a row to set a new record for global average surface temperatures.  Sixteen of the 17 warmest years on record have occurred since 2001.  To read more about temperature trends and to explore the data, visit NASA’s website.


New study links living near busy roadways with increased risk of dementia

Living close to a major roadway is associated with an increased risk of dementia, according to a study published in January in The Lancet. Researchers at Public Health Ontario evaluated data on three neurological health outcomes in adults and housing distance from roads with heavy traffic in the province of Ontario, Canada. Baseline year (1996) health data were compared to the years from 2001 to 2012. The analysis indicates people living within 50 meters of a major road were 7-11% more likely receive a diagnosis of dementia during the study period. Major roads include highways and congested city roads. Risks declined with greater distance from the major roads. People who lived over 200 meters away had a similar risk to those who did not live near a road with heavy traffic.

For more details, see the full report.

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Air Mail is a quarterly, email-based newsletter featuring updates on air quality issues and the work of the MPCA and our partners.  Subscribers to this list also receive Air Mail Bulletins, which provide time-sensitive regulatory and technical updates.

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