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Archive for June, 2016

Great River Energy Partnership Provides Pollinator Habitat

June 21st, 2016

It’s no secret that our insect pollinators are in danger. We know if we don’t do something soon, we risk losing many of our domesticated bees and entire species of wild pollinators.

In fact, Environmental Initiative held a summit earlier this spring in partnership with the Minnesota Department of Agriculture to gather real and meaningful ideas from the community to protect pollinators from stressors like habitat loss, pesticides use and a changing climate.Monarch on flower.jpg

We were excited to learn that Great River Energy, one of our longstanding members and supporters, is working to help create valuable habitat for bees and butterflies.

In honor of National Pollinator Week, June 20 to 26, I sat down with Craig Poorker, manager, land rights at Great River Energy to learn more about their work and get their advice for businesses that are considering doing the same.

To get started, what is Great River Energy doing to provide pollinator habitat?

Great River Energy, along with the city of Elk River and the Minnesota Department of Transportation (MnDOT), is working to bring back nine acres of vibrant, ecologically-diverse pollinator friendly native habitat at our Elk River campus on U.S. Highway 10. It is a unique opportunity for us to add to the nationwide effort to restore pollinator populations, while also working with partners who are committed to doing the same.

Where did the idea come from?

Great River Energy has been a leader in restoring native habitat for more than a decade. We have restored about 200 acres of native habitat across Minnesota, including at our headquarters facility in Maple Grove, near our peaking stations and along a transmission line near Savage, Minn. We also recently worked on a small planting and educational event with Wolf Ridge Environmental Learning Center, where fifth graders participated in a prairie planting near a solar array.

While Great River Energy has long been committed to native habitat re-establishment, there is so much public support for pollinator habitat projects that we began looking for more opportunities again last year.

The Elk River campus is a unique location for pollinator habitat. We’re able to educate more and increase environmental awareness simply because our project is located near the Mississippi River along one of Minnesota’s most heavily traveled roads. An estimated 27,700 motorists will pass by the new prairie every day.

What was your biggest challenge with this project?

Our lawn has always been well manicured and appreciated by our employees and the community. It is a noticeable landmark in Elk River so we knew that it was important to start talking with community leaders and employees in advance to help them understand the “why’s” behind the change.

Awareness of the decline in pollinator populations is high and many people are excited about the project. We are hearing a lot of positive support. On the other hand, we also know that the lawn will be missed.

We are working with highly experienced landscape architects and prairie experts to make sure we do it right. We also know it will take some time before the native habitat is fully established.

Restoring pollinator habitat will give the campus a new look, and an important new purpose. Once the plants mature, the campus will be a beautiful new source of pride. It will not happen overnight. Fortunately, we do have an underground sprinkler system that will help the prairie mature more quickly than it otherwise would.

Why did Great River Energy decide to do this?

This is the right project at the right time for the right reasons. Both MnDOT and the city of Elk River, through their Energy City plan, also have pollinator habitat goals, and this is a great way to support each other and the environment. Four of the nine acres of this project are in MnDOT’s right of way.

And the time is right. The decline in pollinator populations is widely recognized now, and public awareness of the importance of native habitat has significantly increased.

Approximately 25 percent of Great River Energy’s employees work and live in Elk River. This is an opportunity for us all to support the nationwide effort.

What one piece of advice would you give other businesses and organizations that are looking to try something similar?

Help people understand why your project is important, find experienced vendors to work with, and find like-minded partners. We can do more together than individually. We appreciate our partnership with MnDOT and the city of Elk River. This partnership and project supports important environmental goals that that we all share.

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Emily Franklin

POSTED BY:

Director of Communications

It’s Smog Season: What It Means and What You Can Do

June 9th, 2016

If you step outside today, there’s no denying that summer is officially here. Along with the good things that summer brings, like beaches, grill-outs, fishing, and freeze pops, summer also brings some not-so-good things, like mosquitoes and (drumroll please…) air pollution.

Ground level ozone (you probably know it as smog) forms when Volatile Organic Compounds, or VOC’s (the stuff that you smell when you run your lawnmower, have a bonfire, or use spraypaint) combine in the atmosphere with Nitrogen Oxides, or NOx (the stuff that comes from your car’s tailpipe) in the presence of heat and sunlight.MNAQAlert6-9-16

But wait, ozone is a good thing, right?

It is…as long as it exists in the stratosphere, protecting us from UV radiation. At ground level, it is best compared to a sunburn on your lungs, causing burning and irritation and triggering asthma attacks and cardiovascular problems. Over time, that irritation can contribute to chronic respiratory diseases and decreased lung function.

Right on cue, the warm-up over the next few days is causing ground level ozone forecasts to spike, peaking Saturday at a 97 on the air quality index, and triggering an air pollution health advisory for portions of western, central and southern Minnesota. While the high temperatures create a challenging situation, there are still some easy steps that you can take to help reduce your pollution contribution over the next few days.

  • Avoid single-occupancy car trips and gas up at night
    Cars are a source of both volatile organic compounds and nitrogen oxides, especially if they are in need of a tune-up. Consider avoiding single-occupancy trips by carpooling, taking public transit, working from home, or, better yet, taking a summer Friday off of work. While we’re talking about cars, consider putting off gassing up until the evening, when the heat of the day has passed and ozone concentrations are declining.
  • Don’t mow your lawn
    That wonderful smell of fresh cut grass is actually volatile organic compounds being emitted into the air. These emissions come from the small engines on lawnmowers and weedwackers and from the grass itself. Be a good neighbor and consider putting off mowing for a couple of days.
  • Put off that painting project
    Again, that smell of fresh paint is actually the smell of VOC’s. If you’re planning home improvement or painting projects, consider holding off on any painting or staining until the weather cools.
  • Be Air Aware
    Knowledge is power, right? Learn about current air quality conditions, forecasts, and actions that you can take both on air quality days and in your everyday life to reduce your air pollution footprint at beairawaremn.org, a website built and curated by Clean Air Minnesota’s partners. Consider downloading the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency’s mobile app or signing up for e-mail or twitter alerts.
Mikey Weitekamp

POSTED BY:

Senior Project Manager, Environmental Initiative

Community Meeting on Equitable Air

June 8th, 2016

On Monday, June 20, Congressman Ellison will gather leaders working on air pollution to discuss equity and air quality.EquitableAirFlyer

EVENT DETAILS

Monday, June 20, 2016
5:30 p.m. – 7:00 p.m.
Nellie Stone Johnson Community School
807 N 27th Avenue
Minneapolis, MN 55411

Map & Directions »

The air we breathe is something many people take for granted. But in the industrial parts of North, South, and Southeast, the air is too frequently anything but fresh.

A joint Minnesota Pollution Control Agency and Minnesota Department of Health study estimates air pollution contributes to roughly 2,000 deaths, 400 hospitalizations, and 600 emergency room visits in Minnesota every year. We also know the negative health impacts of air pollution are not shared equally. One study found that 8% of childhood asthma cases in Los Angeles were a result of living within 250 feet to major roadways.

We hope to see you along with our staff and Clean Air Minnesota partners for this important conversation about air quality and equity. Panelists will include Minnesota Pollution Control Agency Commissioner John Linc Stine and Minneapolis Commissioner of Health Gretchen Musicant, as well as organizers working on environmental justice. There will be a large amount of time dedicated to answering questions and listening to testimony from the community.

Questions? Contact Nicky Leingang, Community Representative and Staff Assistant for Congressman Keith Ellison at (612)-522-1212.

Emily Franklin

POSTED BY:

Director of Communications

Project Green Fleet Removes 17,000 Cars from the Road

June 7th, 2016

A little less than two years ago, Environmental Initiative announced completing all eligible school bus retrofits in Minnesota; an effort that in partnership with the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency reduced emissions equivalent to removing 750,000 cars from the road each year. At that time, we daringly declared our intention to match school bus emission reductions by retrofitting 100 heavy-duty, off-road pieces of diesel equipment. As we approach the 2-year anniversary of this new phase of Project Green Fleet, I thought it would be an appropriate time to report and reflect on our efforts.

For those unfamiliar, retrofitting a school bus means installing a DOC and/or a FOH. Say, what? DOC stands for Diesel Oxidation Catalyst. Essentially, it’s like the catalytic converter on your car, but bigger. FOH stands for Fuel Operated Heater. When buses need to warm up in winter or during school trips, they idle the engine to provide heat. An FOH is a small heater that heats the engine and the bus while reducing fuel use by 90%. As retrofits go, DOCs and FOHs are easy: quick to install, cheap, and compatible with most buses. Plus, Environmental Initiative and our partners paid for 100% of the retrofit costs. Tough to turn down, amirite?

From Buses to Big (Really Big) Diesel Vehicles

Heavy-duty, off-road retrofits are a “horsepower” of a different color. Basically, there are three options: you can upgrade an engine, replace an engine, or replace the whole piece of equipment. These retrofits result in massive emission reductions, but they also cost much more. While Project Green Fleet offers a match incentive, fleets often invest tens of thousands of dollars of their own resources for a heavy-duty retrofit. These bigger jobs also require more “down-time” to install along with specialized and technical expertise, which can complicate work schedules.frontloader, construction vehicle

However, despite these challenges and an audacious goal before us, the response has been incredible. Since completing the school buses in 2014, Environmental Initiative has eliminated diesel emissions equivalent to removing 17,000 cars from the road each year through heavy-duty reduction projects. We’ve also got potential projects in the works that would amount to an additional 28,000 car-equivalent removal by the end of 2016. New projects range from Sleepy Eye to Duluth, with a heavy concentration of work slated to happen in the 7-county metro area. In fact, demand for diesel emission reduction projects has been so great we’ve already committed all of our available resources for 2016. (We’re currently busy raising more funds).

Our partners at the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency (MPCA) have received similar response to funding for clean diesel projects through their Diesel Emissions Reduction Act (DERA) program. The MPCA program covers 40% of diesel upgrade costs and funding is expected to increase to $400,000 for next year. Learn more »

So, where do we go from here?

In the words of Big Tom Callahan, “…you’re either growing or you’re dying.” Three things will determine the future success of Project Green Fleet: fleet participation, increased awareness of air pollution and the need for emission reductions, and funding.

We’ve got a lot of work to do. Here are three ways you can help:

  • Know a company or fleet manager who may be interested in upgrading their older diesel equipment? Contact me for program information to pass along.
  • Raise awareness about air quality. We’re looking for guest bloggers, story ideas, social media sharing, and more to support a coordinated campaign to raise awareness about air quality in Minnesota. If you’re interested in communicating about air quality, contact Emily Franklin in our office to plug in.
  • Donate. Between June 8 and July 1, any contribution made to Environmental Initiative will be matched dollar for dollar. Donations from individuals like you help make work like Project Green Fleet, and our other collaborative projects, possible. Donate here »

 

Bjorn Olson

POSTED BY:

Senior Environmental Project Associate

Flint Hills Resources: Member of the Month

June 3rd, 2016

The Flint Hills Resources Pine Bend refinery, located in Rosemount, produces transportation fuels used throughout the Midwest, including most of Minnesota’s gasoline, diesel fuel, and jet fuel, as well as other products such as propane and asphalt. Pine Bend is among the cleanest, most efficient oil refineries in the country. It has reduced total onsite emissions in 11 of the last 15 years, and its emissions per barrel are approximately 19% lower than other U.S. refineries.

Flint Hills Resources and its employees partner with a variety of local organizations where they contribute their expertise, time and resources to benefit the community. Environmental Initiative one of those organizations.

Flint Hills Resources is a founding sponsor and ongoing supporter of Project Green Fleet, a collaborative effort with Environmental Initiative to install pollution control equipment in thousands of Minnesota school buses, heavy-duty trucks, and other diesel vehicles. In 2014, Flint Hills provided a $1 million donation which allowed us to complete Project Green Fleet’s school bus retrofit program (3,000+ buses) and expand the program to other diesel-powered equipment.

Now we are retrofitting construction equipment and even tugboats! Becky Sue, a riverboat used on the Mississippi River, received upgrades to its 600-horsepower engines which push barges in Saint Paul’s harbor. This effort reduced emissions equivalent to removing 12,000 cars from the road each year. Exciting milestones have happened and continue to happen with this award-winning voluntary program.

Flint Hills is also an Environmental Initiative award winner for its work to restore 1,650 acres of natural prairie and oak savanna known as the Pine Bend Bluffs Natural Area along the Mississippi River. This area provides critical habitat for both resident and migratory animals and is a migration corridor for millions of songbirds and 40% of North America’s waterfowl and shorebirds. In addition, Flint Hills’ 30-year collaboration with Ducks Unlimited has resulted in 36,000 acres of restored wild rice lake habitat, 144,235 acres of wetland protection and restoration, 54,097 acres of grasslands protection, and five miles of sensitive shoreline protection.

Together, Environmental Initiative and Flint Hills have made meaningful contributions in Minnesota. To learn more about the Flint Hills Resources Pine Bend refinery, visit PineBendRefinery.com.

Sacha Seymour-Anderson

POSTED BY:

Development Director
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