Air Mail Newsletter for February 2020

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In this issue


Air quality rules are updated to include federal standards

The Minnesota Pollution Control Agency (MPCA) is completing its rule to incorporate by reference 31 New Source Performance Standards (NSPS) and National Emission Standards for Hazardous Air Pollutants (NESHAPs) into Minnesota rules chapter 7011, Standards for Stationary Sources.  The MPCA incorporates federal performance standards that limit criteria and hazardous air pollutants into state rules so that federal standards have the effect of state law.  Incorporating the federal standards gives the MPCA authority to implement and enforce them.  The rule will be effective by April 2020.

In addition to the new incorporations, the rulemaking also addressed a number of other needed revisions within chapter 7011.  These amendments correct inconsistencies in the titles of previously adopted rules, update referenced materials, make consistency changes in how the rules describe incorporated federal requirements, and make non-substantive adjustments and modifications to clarify existing rule requirements.  These changes mean that when the rule is effective and codified within Minnesota rules, titles of standards will be different.  None of the changes to the headings have any effect on the requirements of that part. The changes to the headings are solely to provide more useful access to information about the rules.  Learn more about the rulemaking on the MPCA’s website.

The completion of this rulemaking means that the MPCA will now prepare its plan demonstrating to EPA that the federal emission guidelines for existing municipal solid waste (MSW) landfills are in effect and enforceable in Minnesota. Completing this plan, called a 111(d) plan, means that EPA will not include Minnesota in its federal plan to regulate MSW landfills. Preparing a plan allows the MPCA to tailor compliance requirements to better reflect landfill operations in Minnesota.  The MPCA will place the 111(d) plan on public notice this summer.


Minnesotans share views on Clean Cars proposal

Public meeting in Minneapolis

Thousands of residents from across the state have weighed in and shared their thoughts on the proposed Clean Cars Minnesota rule, which Governor Walz announced in September 2019. MPCA asked Minnesotans for initial feedback between October and December 2019, and the single most repeated comment we heard was support for reducing greenhouse gas emissions and the importance of taking action to reduce the impacts of climate change. “I believe it is our responsibility to act decisively to reduce carbon emissions, combat climate change, and reduce air pollution,” wrote one commenter, “since the federal government is not acting, it is up to us.” For a full summary and to access a PDF of all submitted comments, as well as an interactive data tool showing survey results, visit our What we heard webpage.

What comes next?
In March, the MPCA expects to publish official Notice of Intent to Adopt Rules with a Hearing. This is the agency’s formal notice to let Minnesotans know the MPCA is planning to adopt a new rule, and would like to hear comments again. “With a Hearing” indicates that the administrative law judge assigned to this rulemaking will schedule and hold a public hearing where Minnesotans can share their opinions and give testimony. We’re still planning the next phase of public engagement, but there will be more opportunities to learn about the rule and the conclusions of our analysis, as well as how to participate in this process in the coming months.  To keep up to date on the Clean Cars Minnesota rulemaking, sign up to receive emails on our website.

Results from online and in-person survey on what matters most to participants

Clean Cars MN survey results


2019 air quality roundup: A unique year of alerts and events in Minnesota

MPCA meteorologists issued just two air quality alerts for parts of Minnesota in 2019, unlike the record-breaking 10 alerts in 2018. But 2019 was dramatic in its own way.

In 2019, early-season Canadian wildfires were quenched by periods of showers and thunderstorms from late June through September. The weather pattern allowed for multiple episodes of storms to track across the Pacific Northwest and the western and central Canadian provinces, which came as a huge relief for residents there and downwind, including Minnesota. Two air quality alerts were issued in late May and early July as smoke plumes enveloped the state, but after mid-July, wildfire smoke was virtually non-existent in most areas of Minnesota and the Northern Plains due to the lack of widespread wildfires in Canada.

Unfortunately, the wildfires were not diminished over areas south of the Pacific Northwest, including California, Nevada and Arizona, where residents experienced yet another season of dangerous fires. The smoke from these fires, however, does not typically reach Minnesota, except occasionally at very high levels of the atmosphere.

The other reason for the reduction in air quality alerts in 2019 was the lack of significant winter stagnation events, although there were brief episodes that made for some marginal air quality in late 2019.

Air quality alerts by cause
Air quality alert map of MN

The two air quality alerts in 2019 were directly attributed to wildfire smoke from the Canadian provinces. Each alert was different in circumstances and areas of the state impacted. The difference between smoke transport distances was an important factor in intensity and duration.

Smoke began to transport in mid-May and became more concentrated by the end of the month. Typically, fine-particle pollution is the main cause of high air quality index (AQI) values when smoke moves over an area. However, the May air quality alert was due to a unique and complex combination of lingering smoke composed of volatile organic compounds and nitrogen oxides, warm temperatures, and just enough sunshine. This was a recipe for ground-level ozone production. The ozone drove AQI numbers over 100, exceeding the Orange AQI category (unhealthy for sensitive groups) over parts of central and southern Minnesota, and resulted in MPCA’s meteorologists issuing the year’s first air quality alert.  

Air quality alert map of MN

The second alert was issued in early July when wildfire smoke returned to the state. This event was unique in that the origin of the smoke was fires in western Ontario directly north of the Minnesota border, rather than the usual hundreds or thousands of miles away in the more distant provinces of western Canada.  Due to the closer proximity of the fires, the smoke was thicker and more acrid.  The proximity made for a more significant plume impact on the state with lowered visibilities, a strong smell and even taste, and some of the highest measured AQI values since monitoring began in the 1990s. Heavy smoke poured southward into the Boundary Waters Canoe Area, extending to the Moorhead/Detroit Lakes region in the northwest part of the state and eastward to the Duluth/Fond du Lac area and most areas of the North Shore. An air quality alert was issued by MPCA for the entire northern third of the state for two days. The monitors at the Red Lake and Leech Lake Tribal Nations saw hourly values exceed 250 on the AQI scale -- the highest one-hourly values ever measured in Minnesota. For the daily fine-particle average, Red Lake registered a 181, while Leech Lake saw a 125. Winds gradually switched out of the north to a southerly flow and, along with atmospheric mixing, the smoke very slowly began to disperse and move out of the state into Ontario, Canada, and over Lake Superior.

Air quality alert map of MN

Understanding the importance of tracking wildfire smoke near and far, MPCA meteorologists will be using even more tools and technologies in 2020 to improve detection for daily forecasts and air quality alerts in Minnesota. The MPCA will be using remote sensing by way of advanced satellite information, surface and upper air observation networks, aviation reports, low-cost pollution sensors, high-resolution models, communication with various fire agencies, wildfire potential outlooks, and additional in-house training to develop an even better air quality forecasting system.

To keep tabs on the daily air quality measures and forecasts, visit the MPCA AQI webpage. Download the Minnesota Air app, sign up for email notifications on the Air Now website, or follow @mpca_aqi on Twitter.

Reminder: MPCA 2020 winter air modeling seminar this week

The MPCA’s Winter Modeling and Air Quality Seminar is quickly approaching! We will be meeting on Thursday, February 20th, from 1:00pm to 4:30pm at the MPCA St. Paul Office in Room 100. Location and parking information can be found on the MPCA’s website.  Our seminar theme this year is recent changes to the concept of ambient under the Clean Air Act. In addition to our in-person seminar, we are also offering the ability to attend remotely through WebEx using this link Https:// and the access code 963 112 152. If you are interested in attending, either in-person or remotely, please send us an email at We look forward to visiting with you!

Governor Walz establishes a Climate Change Subcabinet and Advisory Council

Governor Walz signing executive order

On December 2, 2019, Governor Walz signed Executive Order 19-37 to establish the Climate Change Subcabinet and the Governor’s Advisory Council on Climate Change. The subcabinet will identify policies and strategies for Minnesota to get back on track to meet or exceed the Next Generation Energy Act goals to reduce greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions. The advisory council will advise the governor and the subcabinet and will be made up of up to 15 members. Read the news release here.

MnDOT announces new Sustainable Transportation Advisory Council

Charging an electric vehicle

On January 30, 2020, the Minnesota Department of Transportation announced the members of its new Sustainable Transportation Advisory Council. The STAC will advise MnDOT on solutions to reduce GHG emissions from transportation. The council will also oversee a new Clean Transportation Funding Pilot Program to help communities reduce GHG emissions from transportation. Learn more about the STAC on MnDOT’s website. Read the news release here.

MPCA grants for emission reductions from solvents and coatings

Business that has switched to lower-emitting technology

Volatile organic compounds (VOCs) from common solvent and coating products contribute to poor air quality where we live and work. Using low-VOC finishing products, water-based products, and high-efficiency equipment can lower emissions of these pollutants.

MPCA grants are now open to help organizations, government entities, educational institutions, tribes, and small businesses across Minnesota switch to alternative solvent and coating products and/or equipment that improves the efficiency of application.

The maximum award is $3,000 and requires a 50% minimum match. The most cost-effective projects will score highest, with additional preference given to projects located in areas of concern for environmental justice, small businesses and organizations, and organizations that have been identified by the Minnesota Department of Administration Small Business Procurement Program based on ownership.

Apply now! Deadline: April 22, 2020. Review grant materials, application, and Q&A here.

Over $650,000 in grants have already been provided to help businesses make the switch. The new products and equipment will reduce air emissions by approximately 24 tons of VOCs within their first year of use.

Grant awards for 124 new, cleaner vehicles

Grant recipients

MPCA’s Volkswagen grants program announces grant awards that will reduce air pollution in communities across the state by taking 124 older, dirty diesel trucks off the road.. This $3.7 million funding opportunity from the VW settlement will reduce an estimated 256 tons of nitrogen oxides, 11 tons of fine-particle pollution, and over 11,000 tons of greenhouse gases in Minnesota over the lifetime of the new vehicles. MPCA received nearly $8 million in requests for these grants, indicating Minnesota businesses are ready and willing to do their part for the environment and invest in cleaner vehicles. And residents throughout Minnesota will breathe a little easier around these new local and regional delivery trucks that will be used for trash, recycling, food and fuel delivery, and more. Learn more on MPCA's updated VW webpage.

Want to learn more about future funding opportunities? Sign up for VW program email updates on the MPCA website. We’ve collected comments on the draft plan for how the MPCA intends to spend settlement funds in 2020-2023 and expect to release the final plan soon. It will be posted on our website and shared with the VW settlement email list, so sign up today!

Minnesota GreenCorps program now accepting host-site applications

GreenCorps members

Minnesota GreenCorps is an AmeriCorps program coordinated by the MPCA that places members with host organizations around the state to assist communities with a variety of environmental needs. The MPCA plans to place up to 42 full-time members with various host sites for the 2020-2021 program year. Members serve approximately 40 hours a week for 11 months beginning in late September 2020 through August 2021. Organizations may apply for GreenCorps members who will serve in the areas of:

  • Air pollutant reduction
  • Waste reduction, recycling, and organics management
  • Green infrastructure improvements
  • Community readiness and outreach.

Examples of air pollution-reduction projects include wood-smoke education, building energy efficiency analysis and tracking, biking education, and transportation electrification efforts.

Organizations eligible to host GreenCorps members include public entities (local, regional, state, tribal), school districts, not-for-profit institutions of higher education, and 501(c)(3) nonprofit organizations.

For more information and to apply, visit MPCA’s GreenCorps webpage. Applications from eligible organizations interested in hosting Minnesota GreenCorps members are due by 5:00 pm CDT on Wednesday, March 18, 2020. Please direct questions to

Note: operation of the 2020-2021 program year is contingent on receiving funds. Confirmation of funding may not be available prior to the application deadline.

MPCA staff participate in Minneapolis Community Connections Conference

MPCA staff at MCCC

MPCA staff attended the Minneapolis Community Connections Conference on February 1st. The theme for the conference this year was “We Count” – all communities are welcome and valued in the City of Minneapolis, and all community members have a role to play in decision making. As a state agency that serves all communities and community members in Minnesota, the MPCA recognizes the importance of people’s experiences and voices when it comes to environmental and other concerns.

MPCA staff attended the event to be present in community, share what we do as an agency, and listen and learn from community members. We are grateful to the City of Minneapolis for including us in this event, and hope to expand to other communities and events in the future. If you would like someone from MPCA to attend your community event, please contact Fawkes Steinwand at

Grants for community strategies to adapt to climate change

MPCA is soliciting grant applications for funding to research, develop, and implement strategies for communities to adapt to the impacts of climate change and improve community resilience while achieving positive environmental outcomes.

  • Total amount available: approximately $250,000
  • Application deadline: March 11, 2020
  • Eligible applicants: Minnesota nonprofits, institutions, political subdivisions of the state, and tribal governments. Multi-organizational collaboration is encouraged.
  • Match requirement: 25% or more of the total project budget from local direct and indirect matching support. Match may be in the form of in-kind services or cash. A reasonable dollar value must be assigned to all in-kind matches. The match cannot be met with services or funds derived from other grant sources administered by the MPCA.

Examples of fundable projects related to air quality are:

  • Conduct authentic engagement on climate adaptation and resilience needs directly with residents within MPCA-identified environmental justice areas of concern, and develop strategies to address these needs.
  • Conduct planning and implement projects (e.g., tree inventories, gravel-bed nurseries, etc.) that support increased coverage of tree canopy for the many climate mitigation and resilience benefits that trees provide.
  • Research or demonstrate alternative building/infrastructure materials, methods, and designs for applications in Minnesota to address climate-related impacts (e.g. flooding, increased frequency of freeze/thaw cycles, urban/extreme heat, etc.).
  • Add storage/islanding capability to public renewable energy installations for resilience during grid failure.

Learn more about this funding opportunity on the MPCA’s website.

New study shows pollution disadvantage in Minnesota communities

A recent study by the Union of Concerned Scientists examined who is most effected by emissions from on-road vehicles in Minnesota. The study found that fine-particle “pollution burden from cars, trucks, and buses is inequitably distributed among racial and ethnic groups in the state. People of color experience an undeniable ‘pollution disadvantage.’” Read about the study on the UCS website.

Coalition group publishes white paper on clean fuels policy in the Midwest

Cover image for Midwestern Clean Fuels Initiative white paper

The Midwestern Clean Fuels Initiative recently released a white paper titled “A Clean Fuels Policy for the Midwest,” which recommends a clean fuels policy for the region that would require reducing carbon emissions from all transportation fuels based on lifecycle carbon emissions. The Midwestern Clean Fuels Initiative is a coalition of fuel producers and marketers, nonprofit and research organizations, scientists and engineers, and agriculture and industry stakeholders. The group’s consensus vision for the a Midwestern policy includes goals of improving biofuels markets and supporting rural economies, as well as reducing greenhouse gas emissions from transportation, electricity, and agriculture; improving air quality; and benefiting water and soil health. Read the white paper here.

Water Gremlin to restart VOC operations under certain conditions

MPCA has been working with the Water Gremlin manufacturing facility in White Bear Township to resolve serious issues of excess emissions of volatile organic compounds (VOCs) that were discovered last winter. Since then there have been a number of legal and administrative actions to address the situation.  Last month the MPCA issued a new administrative order to Water Gremlin that allows the company to restart coating operations using VOCs under certain conditions, including:

  • Phased-in restart and new testing: Coating units are divided into seven groups. The company will restart them one group at a time, with 12 hours in between for indoor air and sub-slab sampling.  If sampling finds groups are emitting the VOC tDCE beneath the sub-slab, coating at those groups must cease until corrective actions are determined by MPCA.
  • Continued air monitoring and new air modeling: Outdoor monitoring continues as it did throughout 2019. MPCA will conduct air modeling to determine compliance with federal, state, and local laws and regulations.
  • Limit on VOC emissions of 90 tons/year: The annual facility limit of 90 tons of VOC emissions that was in place throughout 2019 continues.

Full details of the administrative order can be found here.


EPA begins rulemaking process for Cleaner Trucks Initiative

On January 18, EPA published an advanced notice of proposed rulemaking for their planned Cleaner Trucks Initiative, which will address nitrogen oxide (NOX) emissions from heavy-duty trucks.

In this first step of the rulemaking process, EPA is soliciting comments on a broad array of topics, ranging from possible technical specifications of engine and pollution control components to whether EPA should lengthen the regulatory useful life and warranty length for heavy-duty vehicles and engines. At the core of this notice, however, is the level of emissions reductions EPA will require for heavy-duty vehicles by model year 2027. Recent research suggests that NOX emissions could be reduced by more than 90% from current levels by that time.

EPA is also considering how to address advanced technologies like hybrid, battery electric, and fuel cell engines and vehicles, as well the treatment of alternative fuels, as part of the Cleaner Trucks Initiative rule.

More information can be found on the EPA’s Cleaner Trucks Initiative website. Comments are due to the docket (EPA-HQ-OAR-2019-0055) on or before February 20, 2020.


Ships required to use cleaner fuel to reduce air pollution

Starting in January, ships must now use low-sulfur fuel to reduce emissions of sulfur oxides (SOX). The new rules are expected to result in a 77% reduction in SOX emissions from shipping.  SOX contributes to respiratory illnesses, as well as the formation of ground-level ozone and acid rain. Reducing SOX emissions from shipping is expected to have significant public health benefits for port communities.  Read more on the International Maritime Organization’s website.