Air Mail newsletter May 2021

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Backyard fire tips

Two women enjoy a backyard fire and a beverage

As we head into spring and summer, please keep your neighbors and your community in mind when you have a backyard fire and follow these guidelines:

  • Do not burn anything other than wood. Don’t burn yard waste, like leaves or freshly fallen branches. Don’t burn cardboard, trash, or building materials like treated lumber or rotted fence posts. These can pollute even more than wood, and will leave toxic ash behind.  
  • Burn dry wood. Burn only wood that has been left to dry for six months or more or has been kiln-dried by a retailer. Dry wood is less smoky and releases less pollution than wet wood. 
  • Keep it covered, keep it dry. If you cut your own firewood, split it so it can dry better. Cover stacked wood with a tarp or store it under cover with air flowing through it, so it can get dry and stay dry. Buy an inexpensive moisture meter and check the moisture content in your wood before using it. Only burn when moisture is 20% or less.  
  • Follow local rules. Know your city’s rules around backyard fires. State fire code requires that all backyard fires in Minnesota must be smaller than 3ft x 3ft and at least 25 feet away from structures that could catch fire such as fences, sheds, and houses. Some cities have additional guidelines like certain times of the day when you can have a backyard fire.  
  • Consider other options. Switch to fuels that produce less smoke, like natural gas or propane. Natural gas or propane fires produce less than 1% of the particle pollution released from burning dry wood. Propane burners and kits to convert existing fire pits to natural gas are readily available from hearth and patio stores.

Wildfires and smoke

Map showing air quality index in Minnesota

Wildfires are becoming larger and more frequent during the summer months in the US and Canada, in part due to the influence of climate change. Warmer temperatures and persistent drought conditions create an environment favorable for fires to start easily and then quickly spread out of control. Smoke from these wildfires can travel thousands of miles and reach Minnesota.

While it may produce beautiful sunsets, wildfire smoke that reaches the ground can affect our health. Wildfire smoke contains fine particles that may be harmful to sensitive groups.

Air quality forecasters at the MPCA track smoke plumes that approach our state, and issue alerts when air quality is expected to reach unhealthy levels. They use the Air Quality Index to report air quality using a color scale. When daily average fine-particle levels reach the orange category, sensitive groups such as children, older adults, and those with respiratory conditions may feel the effects. Minnesota has experienced several events over the past few years when wildfire smoke produced poor air quality in the orange category.

Stay informed of current air quality conditions and get tomorrow’s forecast by visiting the MPCA’s current air quality webpage. You can also get air quality forecasts for your area and receive notifications of air quality alerts by downloading the Minnesota Air mobile app and following @mpca_aqi on Twitter.

Solar furnaces keep Leech Lake residents warm

Solar furnace panels installed on the side of a house

To help endure the harsh, northern Minnesota winters, the Leech Lake Band has turned to solar furnace technology to provide more comfortable homes for its members, installing to-date 23 solar furnaces on the Reservation.

Solar furnace panels absorb direct sunlight as well as sunlight reflected from snow, then return the absorbed solar energy as heat. Unlike your average gas furnace or heat pump, solar furnaces produce zero emissions and only require a small amount of electricity to power a fan that moves the heated air through the panels and into the building. As supplemental heating sources, solar furnaces can save homeowners 30% on their energy bill by generating 4.5 million BTUs each heating season.

The Leech Lake Band is working with 8th Fire Solar, a non-profit community development corporation, to manufacture the solar furnace panels, train community members, and install solar furnace systems for both Tribal and non-Tribal customers. This partnership will help the Band achieve their vision of reducing energy burdens for its members, fostering self-reliance, promoting energy security, and addressing environmental justice issues, all while using clean energy.

For more information on Leech Lake Band's sustainability efforts, contact Brandy Toft or Anthony Mazzini

Join Minnesota GreenCorps

Minnesota GreenCorps, an AmeriCorps program coordinated by the MPCA, is seeking motivated, service-minded individuals 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 bi-weekly living allowance, health insurance, student loan forbearance, and an education award of up to $6,345.

“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 15.


Air pollution comes from many sources, and transportation is a big one. Nearly half of Minnesota’s air pollution and greenhouse gas emissions come from transportation. This has lasting effects on our personal health and the health of the planet.

The MPCA’s 2021 Greenhouse Gas Report identified four areas to focus on for reductions:

  • Adopting clean car standards to ensure Minnesotans have access to the cleanest vehicles available
  • Advancing the use of electric vehicles (EVs) and building out EV infrastructure
  • Promoting cleaner fuels, including biofuels
  • Supporting community-led efforts to reduce emissions, including the increased use and availability of public transit and alternative modes of transportation, like walking and biking.

In addition, transportation is one of the sources of air pollution many of us have control over in our daily lives. 

The activities below show a few ways state agencies and individual Minnesotans are working to reduce air pollution and greenhouse gas emissions from transportation. 

MnDOT adopts recommendations to drive down emissions

In March the Minnesota Department of Transportation (MnDOT) adopted recommendations proposed by the Sustainable Transportation Advisory Council (STAC) to reduce carbon pollution from the transportation sector. The recommendations and agency responses focus on creating measurable strategies to help the state transition to a low-carbon transportation system that maximizes the health of people, the environment, and our economy. This includes:

  • Developing a clean fuels policy
  • Supporting EV rebates
  • Increasing investment in charging infrastructure
  • Setting a preliminary goal of a 20% reduction in vehicle miles traveled statewide by 2050
  • Prioritizing transit and high-occupancy vehicles on MnDOT-owned right of way
  • Continuing to prioritize other solutions before considering highway expansion

A full report on the STAC’s recommendations and MnDOT’s commitments has been posted online. For additional information about the council, including membership, charter, and previous meeting information, visit the MnDOT STAC webpage.

Updated EV dashboard

Map of Minnesota showing number of EVs and charging stations by county

Did you know there are 100 registered EVs in Blue Earth County?

That’s the sort of info you’ll find in the MPCA’s recently updated Minnesota Electric Vehicle Dashboard. The dashboard map shows where EVs are registered across Minnesota, as well as the locations of EV charging stations – including one at Paul Bunyan Park in Bemidji. The dashboard also includes information on which vehicle makes are registered in the state (spoiler alert: a surprising amount of Teslas!). 

Want to explore the data in more detail? You can download a spreadsheet to explore by ZIP code, VIN data, and more.

Administrative Law Judge approves Clean Cars rule

The MPCA is working to adopt a new rule to reduce vehicle emissions and make more electric vehicles available to consumers in Minnesota, known as the Clean Cars Minnesota rulemaking.

On May 7, the MPCA received the administrative law judge's report approving the proposed rule:

"The MPCA established it has the statutory authority to adopt the proposed rules, it complied with all procedural requirements of law and rule, and that the proposed rules are needed and reasonable. Therefore, the Administrative Law Judge APPROVES the proposed rules and recommends they be adopted."

The full decision is available online: Report of the Administrative Law Judge  

A recent MPR article provided a quick overview of the plan and the judge’s conclusions.

MnDOT hosts EV planning sessions

MnDOT invites the public to attend one or more virtual public engagement sessions it is hosting May 17 through May 26 to gather input about Minnesota’s Electric Vehicle Strategic Plan. There will be three general sessions and three that dive deeper on specific topics. All sessions will consider the risks, challenges, and opportunities for EVs to create a more equitable transportation system in the region. Anyone can attend any of the sessions to provide feedback. MnDOT is especially seeking input from members of Black, Indigenous, people of color, and low-income communities.

Much has changed in the EV landscape in the last two years with more automakers making large commitments to eliminate gasoline vehicles in the future, more EVs coming on the market, and a new federal administration with large EV goals. Providing input on the state’s EV Strategic Plan will help set Minnesota up for success as the EV landscape continues to evolve, all while working to meet the state’s climate and public health goals.

Learn more and sign-up for a MnDOT public engagement session today.

General sessions

These sessions will spend more time reviewing all strategies broadly, which are designed with an equity-forward approach.  

  • Tuesday, May 18, 5:00-6:30 pm CT 
  • Thursday, May 20, 6:30-8:00 pm CT
  • Saturday, May 22, 9:30-11:00 am CT

Topic-specific sessions

These sessions will dive deeper into specific topics. You do not need to attend a general session to attend a topic-specific session.

  • EV delivery trucks, semis, and buses | Monday, May 17, 2:00-3:30 pm CT 
  • EV charging | Tuesday, May 25, 10:00-11:30 am CT
  • EV passenger cars and trucks | Wednesday, May 26, 11:30 am-1:00 pm CT 

Let’s Talk Transportation!

Cartoon drawing of a woman in a headscarf asking What do you think cleaner transportation in Minnesota might look like

During the pandemic, many of us have found social connection through online game nights with friends and family. Now, you can join MnDOT for virtual fun and games, too—and help plan our transportation future.

During May and June, MnDOT and community organizations statewide will host virtual Let’s Talk Transportation! events for the Statewide Multimodal Transportation Plan 2022 update. Kicking things off will be trivia questions about plan topics: aging infrastructure, climate change, economy and employment, equity, safety, and transportation options. Winners will earn a badge for their Facebook page.

These events will feature colorful comics by Minnesota artist Noah Lawrence-Holder. The comics pose questions that encourage people to share stories about how transportation affects their lives, and what it could be in the future.

Register now for a Let’s Talk Transportation! event in your region. And if you would like to host an event, contact

Cartoon drawings of a van an engine a bus and a cyclist

Highway 252/I‐94 in Brooklyn Park, Brooklyn Center, and North Minneapolis

Highways 252 and I‐94 in Brooklyn Park, Brooklyn Center, and North Minneapolis both experience a high number of crashes, traffic congestion, and significant barriers for pedestrians and bicyclists in the area. Both roads also are deteriorating and need to be repaired. MnDOT, along with local and federal project partners, is currently studying ways to address these issues on Highway 252 between Highway 610 in Brooklyn Park and I‐694 in Brooklyn Center, and on I‐94 from I‐694 in Brooklyn Center to 4th Street North in Minneapolis.

As part of this effort, MnDOT is preparing a multi‐year environmental impact statement (EIS) that outlines the benefits and impacts of a potential construction project. An EIS answers two important questions: How does a proposed highway project impact its surrounding natural, social, cultural, and economic environment? And how can the proposed highway project maximize positive impacts and minimize negative impacts?

You may share your comments at any time and sign-up for project updates on the Highway 252/I-94 project website.

You can view presentations with background information at the YouTube links below: 

Map of Hwy 252 and I-94 project area

Upcoming climate forums

The Our MN Climate Forum series continues in May and June. These forums, hosted by the governor’s Climate Subcabinet, bring together state leaders and experts to discuss the future of climate action in Minnesota. The events are virtual and open to the public.

  • May 13th: Soil health and carbon storage, hosted by the Board of Water and Soil Resources
  • June 10th: Planning communities and transportation to reduce greenhouse gases, hosted by MnDOT.

For full forum details, sign up for Our Minnesota Climate email updates. Receive news on climate-related topics, events, newly published reports, and opportunities to provide input.


Save the date: air modeling virtual open house

The 2021 MPCA Air Modeling Summer Open House is scheduled for July 15 from 1 – 4:30 pm. The meeting will be held remotely using WebEx. If you are interested in attending please RSVP by sending an email to the MPCA’s air modeling group at An agenda is in the works and will be posted on the MPCA’s air quality modeling webpage and sent to everyone who RSVPs.

Water Gremlin corrects hazardous waste violations, will pay penalty

The MPCA and Water Gremlin have signed a stipulation agreement resolving violations of state hazardous waste rules at the company’s manufacturing facility in White Bear Lake Township. The agreement recognizes that Water Gremlin failed to take reasonable steps to prevent pollutants and hazardous waste from discharging into the environment.

The agreement requires Water Gremlin to implement rigorous training and safeguards to prevent further contamination, as well as pay a $325,000 civil penalty. Water Gremlin has completed 31 corrective actions regarding its handling and management of lead, lead-contaminated hazardous waste, TCE-contaminated hazardous waste, used oil, and used oil-contaminated materials.

Water Gremlin has been the subject of several enforcement actions since the MPCA discovered in 2019 that the facility had emitted potentially harmful levels of TCE into ambient air. The MPCA continues to review Water Gremlin’s pending air permit application to ensure the company will meet stringent environmental regulations. Opportunities for public input and a permitting decision are expected in early summer 2021.

The stipulation agreement is available on the MPCA’s Water Gremlin webpage

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Air Mail is a quarterly email 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.

To see past issues, Air Mail Bulletins, or to subscribe, visit the MPCA's website

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