Air Mail Newsletter for May 2019

Air Mail newsletter header

In this issue


Reminder! Air permit online submission service updates

As of May 2018, reissuance applications for individual air permits may be completed through the MPCA’s online service (e-Service). Three applications have been successfully submitted and one permit has been issued, but many more facilities are eligible to take advantage of this time-saving service. Sign up today!

Online submission makes permitting reviews faster by streamlining processes and decreasing data entry by populating forms with permitting data, thereby reducing the time required to issue air quality permits.

Getting started                                             
First-time users of air quality e-Services should go to the MPCA’s Air permit forms and online submittals webpage for help getting started. The forms page has links to all available air e-Services, instructions on setting up an account and getting facility access, and a list of information needed for each page in the e-Service. Once in the e-Service, users will have access to help files for every page and field. If the help pages do not have the information you need, contact the MPCA at

An e-Services account can be created at any time. Existing users can use the same account they already created for individual air administrative amendment applications to submit individual permit reissuance applications.


MPCA and Governor Walz celebrate Earth Week

Governor Walz and Commissioner Bishop at Earth Day

MPCA kicked off Earth Week with its neighbors the Department of Natural Resources and the Union Gospel Mission and their annual neighborhood clean-up.  Governor Walz joined the festivities, helping pick up trash in the area.  MPCA celebrated throughout the week with a variety of events including a fix-it clinic, tours of the Eureka! Recycling Facility, e-waste collection, and secure shredding.  The agency also hosted an Energy and Electric Vehicle Showcase where people were able to explore options for rooftop and community solar, check out the first electric school bus in the state, and test drive an electric bicycle and a wide variety of electric vehicles.  While the MPCA focuses on protecting our lands, waters, air, and climate every day, Earth Week is a great opportunity to celebrate together.

Smarter burning for better breathing this spring

Backyard fire

With warm weather finally here, some Minnesotans start gathering in their backyards – in some instances around a fire pit.  In fact, the number of people burning wood for backyard fires continues to grow, according to the MPCA’s most recent residential wood burning survey. While the survey found the greatest volume of wood burned was for heat, burning for pleasure was the most common reason a household burned wood.  A report summarizing the survey findings will be available by June on the MPCA’s wood smoke page.

Although its appeal for many people is undeniable, burning wood releases fine particles and chemicals into the air.  With so many people burning wood at home, backyard recreational fires have become a sizable source of fine-particle pollution released into the air — especially in more densely populated areas such as the Twin Cities metro area.

Burning wood and breathing the smoke from fire pits can be hazardous to health. People with asthma or respiratory diseases, children under the age of five, and the elderly can be more sensitive than others to the health effects of breathing wood smoke. How many of us know if our neighbors have asthma or lung disease? A first consideration in whether to have a backyard fire should be how it might affect our neighbors.

The best way to reduce exposure to wood smoke: Don't burn wood in the first place. Switching to cleaner fuels such as natural gas or propane will significantly reduce harmful air pollutants.  If you choose to burn wood, make sure to burn dry, seasoned wood (aged at least six months), and don't add any garbage. Go to the MPCA’s wood smoke page for more tips on reducing pollutants.

Burning fallen branches and yard waste results in  unnecessary air pollution and may be illegal where you live.  Contact your city or county to learn how to dispose of your yard waste. 

Finally, please refrain from having backyard fires on air quality alert days, when levels of pollution are already higher.  You can sign up to receive information about air quality conditions near you on the MPCA's Air Quality Index webpage

Volkswagen settlement: upcoming grant opportunities and input on Phase II

New garbage truck

The MPCA continues implementing our program to reduce vehicle emissions using funding from the federal Volkswagen settlement. 

MPCA just released a $3.7 million grant opportunity to replace older, local on-road trucks and transit buses (classes 4-8). The grant provides up to 25% of the replacement cost (capped at $40,000 per vehicle) for new transit buses and local delivery trucks including short-haul, box trucks, cement trucks, and garbage trucks (the VW settlement does not allow funds for long-haul trucks).  Application materials are available on the Diesel Replacement Program grant opportunities webpage.

This summer, MPCA will release a grant opportunity to fund electric alternatives to heavy-duty vehicles and equipment.  If you think you might want to apply, now would be a great time to start doing your research on electric alternatives to your equipment!  Information will be posted on the webpage as it becomes available.

This summer, the MPCA will be seeking input on the development of our state plan for Phase II of the VW settlement-funded program.  We will have a comment period and hold meetings around the state, and also will be available to attend the meetings of your organization.  Stay tuned for more information!

To keep up to date on funding and input opportunities, please sign up here for the VW email list.

Connecting with healthcare professionals about air quality

Patient scenario: A Minnesota family physi­cian notices a sudden increase in walk-in visits for asthma exacerbations. Could distant wildfires in the western United States be playing a role in this up­tick of asthma activity?

This scenario is from an article published in Minnesota Medicine and authored by the Minnesota Department of Health and University of Minnesota (read it here).  Understanding the connection between air quality and health is critical for physicians in the healthcare community for better patient care.  Knowing how bad air quality impacts various health conditions allows the healthcare community to provide improved treatment. The MPCA’s Air Quality Index is an important tool that can be used by healthcare professionals to best assess the air quality on a daily and seasonal basis for planning and care of patients.

In another recent health publication, the American Journal of Public Health released an article on air quality and health, specifically examining air pollution policy to protect children’s health.  The MPCA’s Kristie Ellickson, PhD, was a contributing author.  Read it here.

Pathways to decarbonizing transportation

The Minnesota Department of Transportation (MnDOT), in collaboration with the MPCA, Department of Commerce, Department of Agriculture, Environmental Quality Board, and the McKnight Foundation has launched a project to explore potential strategies for reducing greenhouse gas emissions from on-road vehicles (cars, trucks, buses, etc.) in Minnesota.  The “Pathways to Decarbonizing Transportation” project will result in modeling of potential pathways transportation to help achieve the goals of the state’s Next Generation Energy Act for reducing greenhouse gases (GHGs) for years 2025 and 2050.  The project is a starting point to inform future work by the state to reduce emissions from transportation.

The effort will include several opportunities for Minnesotans to learn about the modeling and share their input.  These include a webinar, a series of public meetings, an on-line survey, and an option to submit written feedback.  The webinar will be on Friday May 31, the meetings will be held in early June, and the survey and on-line feedback portal will be open from late May through June 19.  Check MnDOT’s website for details. 

Multimodal transportation

Reminder! Apply for a grant to reduce air emissions from refrigerant use — due May 15

Refrigerant container

The MPCA is providing grant funding to reduce emissions of hydrofluorocarbon (HFC) refrigerants from Minnesota facilities that use refrigeration equipment, walk in freezers and coolers, retail refrigerated cases, rooftop refrigeration equipment, and chillers. HFC refrigerants have replaced once widely used ozone-damaging refrigerants such as chlorofluorocarbons and hydrochlorofluorocarbons. While these replacements spare the ozone layer, they trap significantly more heat in the atmosphere than carbon dioxide. Substitutes to HFC refrigerants are available and there are methods to reduce refrigerant use overall. Read about refrigerant management here.

Eligible projects will identify and implement actions including leak detection and monitoring and/or the use of alternative refrigerants. The maximum award is $40,000 and there is no match requirement.

Apply now! Deadline: May 15, 2019

To learn more about this grant opportunity and download the application forms, visit the Refrigerant emission reduction grants webpage. Please email with questions.

Progress reaching visibility goals in Boundary Waters Canoe Wilderness Area and Voyageurs National Park

The federal Regional Haze Rule requires states to improve visibility in our nation's national parks and wildernesses (Class I areas) and restore them to natural visibility conditions by 2064.  A federal program called Interagency Monitoring of Protected Visual Environments (IMPROVE) provides long-term monitoring to track changes in visibility and help identify causes of visibility impairment.  Minnesota has two monitors in the IMPROVE program, in the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness and Voyageurs National Park.  The MPCA recently launched a new interactive data tool that shows progress made toward interim goals for visibility, components of impaired visibility, and regional influences on the air in Minnesota Class I areas.  Explore visibility progress for Minnesota Class I areas and the nearby Michigan Class I area, Isle Royale National Park, which lies close to the Minnesota border on an island in Lake Superior, on the MPCA’s website

Visibility data tool

Another year another ozone season in Minnesota

With April rain showers comes May flowers, pollen, baseball, and finally some warm air temperatures. But spring also brings the ground-level ozone season for the North Star state. Spring is a great time to make sure you’re “air aware” by signing up to receive air quality alerts so you can take action to protect your health and reduce your contribution to bad air days.  Download the Minnesota Air app, sign up for email notifications on the Air Now website, or follow @mpca_aqi on Twitter.

This is the third year that MPCA’s meteorologists will be providing air quality forecasts for the entire state.  Air quality monitors across the state, including sites within five tribal nations and reflecting three zones of air quality in the Twin Cities metro area, have helped the meteorologists better forecast air quality around Minnesota.

In recent weeks, MPCA air quality meteorologists began to create daily ozone forecasts in addition to the year-round fine-particle forecast. Every day they evaluate the atmosphere for sunshine, clouds, precipitation, winds, temperatures, and more to determine if ozone or fine particulates are likely to threaten public health. 

Ground-level ozone is formed through chemical reactions of pollutants in the air in the presence of high temperatures and sunlight, so in Minnesota higher levels of ozone are typically found in late April or early May through mid-September.  The MPCA uses the Air Quality Index (AQI) created by the Environmental Protection Agency to communicate the level of pollution in the air and its potential impact on the public.  Minnesota typically experiences its fair share of moderate ozone days during the summer season, and occasionally a few days will approach or even nudge past the “bad air” threshold of 101 on the AQI scale.

Air Quality Index

In 2018, Minnesota experienced its highest ozone values since the heatwave of the summer of 2012. The Memorial Day weekend heatwave in 2018 produced ozone AQI values at a level considered “Unhealthy for Sensitive Groups,” on three of the four days of the holiday weekend. Fortunately, a combination of cooler temperatures, increased humidity and clouds, and a fairly busy weather pattern was able to keep the atmosphere mixed and moving to prevent the formation of high levels of ozone the rest of the summer.

Based on National Weather Service summer outlooks, the potential for above normal temperatures in Minnesota this year is about average, so potential for higher ozone days is about normal as well.  To keep tabs on the daily air quality measures and forecasts, visit the MPCA AQI webpage.

HOURCAR and the Twin Cities to offer all-electric shared vehicle service and public EV charging stations

HourCar logo on the side of a vehicle

HOURCAR, in partnership with Xcel Energy and the cities of St. Paul and Minneapolis is going all-electric.  HOURCAR is the Twin Cities’ original carsharing service and the largest nonprofit carsharing company in the US.  Funding and logistical support from their partners is supporting the implementation of their Electric Vehicle (EV) Community Mobility Network vision.  The project will create 70 mobility hubs, each with four level 2 (slower charging) EV chargers and up to 10 of the hubs will include faster chargers.  The chargers will be available both for public use and to support HOURCAR’s fleet of 150 EVs.  HOURCAR’s carsharing service is expected to enable more households to reduce personal car ownership by relying more on riding transit and shared vehicles.  The combination of the service’s support for transit ridership, electric fleet of vehicles, and public EV charging hubs will support reduced vehicle emissions and cleaner air for the Twin Cities region.

Xcel Energy has committed to invest over $4 million in the electrical infrastructure necessary for Minneapolis and St. Paul to host this innovative new service. $4 million of additional project funds came from the Metropolitan Council as part of the Council’s $200 million semi-annual Regional Solicitation, which has historically funded highway, transit, bicycle, and pedestrian projects across the region.  In funding this project, the Council’s Transportation Advisory Board decided to explore an opportunity to advance the region’s evolving transportation system.

For more information about the new project, visit HOURCAR’s website.

Join Minnesota GreenCorps!

Minnesota GreenCorps, an AmeriCorps program coordinated by the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency, is seeking motivated, service-minded people to improve the environment and strengthen communities throughout the state.  GreenCorps members serve with government entities, non-profit organizations, and educational institutions to carry out service projects in areas of air pollutant reduction, community readiness and outreach, green infrastructure improvements, and waste reduction, recycling, and organics management.

GreenCorps members serve full-time for 11 months, from September to August. In addition to receiving training, developing job skills, and gaining professional experience, members earn a living stipend of around $1,428 per month and an education award of $6,095.

“Minnesota GreenCorps was the perfect opportunity to apply my degree and work with a community that believes in the importance of environmental sustainability, while also networking with others in this field and building a solid foundation of relevant work experience.” – 2018/2019 Minnesota GreenCorps member

Visit the MPCA’s Minnesota GreenCorps webpage to learn more and apply by June 17!

Collage of Green Corps activities

No-cost opportunity to identify and implement alternatives to trichloroethylene (TCE) solvent in industrial processes

MnTAP logo

There are many reasons to avoid using trichloroethylene (TCE), and with recent headlines in Minnesota it is getting more attention than ever! TCE is a hazardous air pollutant and a known human carcinogen that can contaminate soil, air, and water.  New restrictions are being considered both at the federal and state levels. Unfortunately, there is no single perfect option when it comes to replacing TCE in cleaning and other industrial operations, so businesses are often left with questions such as:

  • Should we consider an alternative to TCE in our process?
  • Will these alternatives really work for us?
  • How do we know these alternatives are really better?

If these questions are being asked in your business, you can get no-cost assistance to select an alternative.  An assessment can help avoid replacing TCE with another chemical that may be less regulated but isn’t necessarily any less hazardous. Choosing the wrong alternative might lead to continued health and environmental risks and the need to choose another alternative in the future.

Don’t make the wrong switch! The Minnesota Technical Assistance Program (MnTAP) at the University of Minnesota and the Toxic Use Reduction Institute at the University of Massachusetts, Lowell, with funding from the MPCA and U.S. EPA, are partnering to provide Minnesota businesses no-cost technical assistance to find effective, safer cleaning options.

You get at no cost to your organization:

  • Training to help identify effective products to replace TCE in your process
  • Site assessments to understand your current process and cleaning needs
  • Solubility testing to identify safer alternatives to TCE
  • Technical assistance for qualification and implementation of alternatives.

For more information on the program or to be added to the project mailing list for a training scheduled for June 11, 2019, visit MnTAP’s TCE Alternatives Project website. If you have questions or want more information, contact Jane Paulson (, 612-624-1826).

How clean is your electricity?

Power Profiler logo

EPA has updated its Power Profiler, an online tool that can be used to quickly see and compare emission profiles of the US electricity grid.  It allows a user to review or compare emissions of carbon dioxide, sulfur dioxide, and nitrogen oxides from the power sector in each of EPA’s eGRID regions.  The Power Profiler currently reflects 2016 emissions, but will be updated next year with 2018 emissions.

The Power Profiler is one of a number of tools and datasets EPA offers on its Energy and Environment web portal.  While you’re there, check out eGRID, another useful resource combining information from the Energy Information Association with emissions data from EPA’s Clean Air Markets Division.  It is often considered the most comprehensive source of data on the environmental characteristics of the US power system. 

Metro Transit marches towards 2040 with electric vehicles, LEDs, solar, and geothermal

Electric transit bus

This summer Metro Transit is taking big strides towards a cleaner, greener future.  Starting June 8, Metro Transit will launch the METRO C Line, the agency’s first-ever electric bus service, providing faster, more frequent trips from downtown Minneapolis, into North Minneapolis and out to the Brooklyn Center Transit Center. More than half of the 60-foot buses will be propelled by a battery-electric system to reduce diesel pollution along this heavily trafficked corridor.  Learn more on the Metro Transit website.

Also in June, several Metro Transit departments will move into a new building in Minneapolis. This building features green design, including geothermal heating and cooling systems, LED lights, solar panels, and a green space on its roof where plants will absorb rainwater. Some of these features will also be incorporated into their new and most energy-efficient garage yet, the Minneapolis Bus Garage, which will be built nearby.  Learn more about the building plans here.

By the end of 2019, 75% of Metro Transit’s support facilities and rail stations will be converted to LED lighting and be supported by solar power, including three park & rides. And after the success of a pilot program testing a recycling sorting system at three facilities, the agency will be adding additional sites over the next 18 months, which will reduce landfilled waste by 75% over the next decade.  Learn more about Metro Transit’s plans on their Go Greener website.

Update on Water Gremlin

Air monitoring device at Water Gremlin

Water Gremlin, a manufacturer in White Bear Lake, Minn., paid one of the largest environmental penalties in the state’s history in March 2019 as part of a settlement with the MPCA resolving past emissions of Trichloroethylene (TCE) - a hazardous air pollutant.   The facility shut down production on January 14, and subsequent investigation found the facility had emitted TCE at levels far above what was allowed by its permit going back to 2002.  This resulted in potentially harmful exposures to TCE for residents up to a mile-and-a-half away from the facility. 

The settlement, valued at about $7 million, included a civil penalty and two supplemental environmental projects, and allowed the company to restart production but without using TCE.  Instead Water Gremlin is using an alternative product whose main ingredient is trans 1,2-Dichloroethylene (DCE). The settlement limits the amount of DCE that can be used until new pollution control equipment is installed.  Production re-started on March 1.  The new pollution control equipment was installed and became operational on May 1.  The equipment will go through a short break-in period after which it will undergo emissions testing to determine if it is functioning correctly. 

The settlement also requires air monitoring for volatile organic compounds (including DCE) in ambient air around and near the facility.  Five monitoring sites were established around the company’s property using Summa canisters that take 24-hour samples every three days.  The monitors are operated by Pace Analytical Labs, with results reported directly to the MPCA.  Results are regularly updated on the MPCA’s website.  At minimum, air monitoring will continue until the company can demonstrate that the control equipment is functioning properly.

As required under the settlement, the company has also begun evaluating soil and ground water around the site for potential TCE and lead contamination.  If contamination is found, the company will be required to clean it up.  The Minnesota Department of Health tested a number of private drinking water wells in the area and did not find any TCE contamination. 

More information about Water Gremlin is available on the MPCA’s website.


EPA proposes to revise analyses associated with Mercury and Air Toxics Standards for coal power plants

EPA recently sought comment on a proposed revision to its Supplemental Cost Finding for the Mercury and Air Toxics Standards (MATS), and a related, Clean Air Act-required risk and technology review.  MATS is a national emissions standard for hazardous air pollutants that establishes emission limits for hazardous air pollutants (HAPs) from coal-fired power plants.  In revising the Supplemental Finding, EPA significantly reworked the cost/benefit analysis, concluding that benefits from controlling HAPs did not justify the cost of regulating EGUs.  However, EPA did not propose to repeal MATS.  All Minnesota power plants are in full compliance with MATS.  The proposal is available on

The MPCA commented that EPA’s reworked cost/benefit analysis is flawed and must be revised to account for real benefits from controlling particulate matter, to update health impacts, and to take into account that actual costs of compliance were far lower than initially estimated.  MPCA’s comment letter is available here.

EPA proposes to revise greenhouse gas emissions standards for new coal plants

This winter, EPA proposed revisions to the New Source Performance Standard (NSPS) for greenhouse gas emissions from new, modified and reconstructed power plants (40 CFR Part 60 Subp TTTT).  This proposal would relax the standard of performance for carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions from coal-fired power plants, removing the requirement to use partial carbon capture for CO2 control.  The proposal is available on

MPCA commented on the proposal, expressing its position that carbon capture and sequestration (CCS) remains the best system of emissions reduction for new coal-fired power plants, and that EPA inappropriately reassessed the technical feasibility and costs of CCS.  The MPCA expressed concerns about EPA’s intentions in soliciting comment on alternative statutory interpretations related to the “endangerment finding” that obliges EPA to regulate CO2.  MPCA’s comment letter is available here.

American Lung Association releases new report on national air quality

The American Lung Association recently released its State of the Air report, which looks at air quality across the country.  The report concludes that in 2015-2017 ground-level ozone and short-term particle pollution got worse in many cities compared with 2014-2016.  The report also grades air quality in counties across the country.  Explore the report on ALA’s website.

New study reveals inequities in consumption add to racial disparities in air pollution exposure

A recent study published in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences reveals that fine particle exposure in the US is largely driven by goods and services consumed disproportionately by whites, while exposure to the pollution resulting from that consumption is disproportionately experienced by people of color.  Lear more in this NPR article.

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