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Introducing the High-Emitting Vehicles Pilot Project

March 22nd, 2017

Our work and reach is always expanding here at Environmental Initiative! We’re excited to announce a new project that will be addressing Minnesota’s air quality by fixing pollution controls on high-emitting passenger vehicles for folks with lower incomes.

What are High-Emitting Vehicles?

Photo credit: Minnesota Pollution Control Agency

It can kind of be a mouthful to say, but high-emitting vehicles are passenger cars and light-duty trucks that emit high levels of pollution into the air. These cars typically have outdated or broken emission controls or exhaust equipment that would typically be identified in vehicle emissions testing programs run in areas that have violated federal air quality standards. This new pilot project aims to repair some of those broken technologies, improving fuel efficiency and reducing air pollution all at the same time.

How does the project work?

Environmental Initiative is partnering with two nonprofit garages that provide low-cost safety and reliability repairs to help improve their clients’ economic security. While funding is available, Cars for Neighbors and The Lift Garage will offer no-cost repairs to three priority emission control systems on the cars of clients that qualify for their services: catalytic converters, evaporative emission control (EVAP) systems, and oxygen sensors. You can read more about these technologies here »

 

 

This is a pilot project, so we’ll be working on a small scale for right now. In this phase, our goal is to repair roughly 40 vehicles identified by our partners. We have high hopes, though! If the pilot is successful, we’ll be raising funds and expand our reach.

The high-emitting vehicles pilot project is one of several efforts underway to help achieve Clean Air Minnesota’s goal of reducing man-made sources of fine particulate matter (soot) and ground level ozone precursor emissions (smog) by 10%.

Clean Air Minnesota is a diverse coalition of air quality leaders convened by Environmental Initiative who are working voluntarily and proactively to reduce air pollution.

Why is this project important?

Minnesota is fortunate enough to have pretty good air quality. However, as the science around air quality advances, health impacts from air pollution are being found at ever lower concentrations. One recent study from the University of Toronto found that 25% of the worst-polluting passenger vehicles may emit up to 90% of vehicle-related air pollution (The Air We Breathe Report 2017). Focusing on vehicles that produce higher levels of pollution is one efficient and cost effective method of addressing air quality concerns in our state.

The great part about this project is that its impacts go far beyond the environmental factors. According to a report published by the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency and the Minnesota Department of Health, lower-income residents of color, children with asthma, and the elderly are often most affected by dirty air. Disadvantaged communities feel the health effects of pollution more acutely, often in the form of respiratory and cardiovascular conditions. The Lift Garage and Cars for Neighbors serve these communities that often cannot afford repairs to emission control systems. Every repair that this project makes reduces pollution in close proximity to those most vulnerable to it while furthering our partners’ missions of promoting economic stability through reliable transport.

Overall, the high-emitting vehicles pilot project is a big opportunity to reduce air pollution where it is most felt. At the same time, we can also address sources that produce large amounts of dirty air. It’s a win-win!

We’re really excited to be launching a pilot version of this project and are looking forward to expanding. If you have questions, want to learn more, or are interested in contributing, you can contact me at mweitekamp@en-in.org.

Mikey Weitekamp

POSTED BY:

Senior Project Manager, Environmental Initiative

Project Stove Swap Heats Up

February 6th, 2017

It’s been an amazing year for Project Stove Swap! Looking back at where this project started, I could not be happier with the results we’ve seen and where we’re headed.

Where We’ve Been

If you don’t know, Project Stove Swap operates under the umbrella of Clean Air Minnesota—a diverse coalition of air quality leaders working to reduce emissions by 10%. While Clean Air Minnesota partners identified wood smoke as a crucial area for emissions reductions, no funding was available for a project.

Recognizing that many of Northeastern Minnesota residents rely on wood as a heat and energy source, Environmental Initiative and partners decided it was the perfect region to implement a wood smoke reduction effort and, with help from Minnesota Power and a large network of regional partners, Project Stove Swap was born.

WHERE WE ARE

Now, a year or so later, we’ve officially launched Project Stove Swap in 17 Northeastern Minnesota counties. In short, Project Stove Swap provides financial incentives to consumers and businesses to replace older wood heating appliances with more efficient, less-polluting technologies.

Last week, Environmental Initiative staff and partners came together at one of the project’s vendors, Duluth Stove and Fireplace, to commemorate the launch. We heard from store co-owner Matt Boo, Environmental Initiative’s Mike Harley, Amy Rutledge of Minnesota Power, and Allison Rajala Ahcan about the importance of the project from an environmental and economic perspective.

You can read and watch the news coverage of the event below.

WHERE WE’RE GOING

Since the official launch, our phones have been ringing and ringing from residents, businesses, and stove vendors wanting to participate. I’m always working on getting vendors set up with the project, so if you don’t have a Project Stove Swap vendor in your county, you will soon!

Even beyond this last week’s media coverage, the goal has always been to expand the project and reach the whole state. All Minnesotans should reap the benefits of a newer, cleaner heating alternative. After all, it does get pretty cold here, so any way we can help people be safer, pollute less, and support local businesses is always a good thing. I can’t wait to share all the stories that come out of Project Stove Swap with you, so stayed tuned.

Mikey Weitekamp

POSTED BY:

Senior Project Manager, Environmental Initiative

Introducing Project Stove Swap

November 3rd, 2016

Since Clean Air Minnesota’s inception, members of the partnership have been thinking about and working on many strategies to improve Minnesota’s air quality. While wood smoke had been identified as a major source of pollutants, a significant funding source has not been available to start a project until this year with Minnesota Power. After consulting with air experts, securing funding, setting concrete goals, and hiring staff (me!), we’re excited to introduce Project Stove Swap.

PSS-HEADER-shortIn short, Project Stove Swap is a voluntary wood stove change-out program. The project provides financial incentives to residents and organizations to replace old appliances with new, more efficient, less-polluting technologies. Currently, Project Stove Swap is working in 17 Northeastern Minnesota counties. We’re excited to be expanding the scope of our clean air work (And I’m excited to be visiting 17 Northeastern Minnesota counties on a regular basis!) 

How Project Stove Swap Works

Residents and organizations that use older, non-EPA certified wood heaters as a primary or major heat source are eligible for a financial incentive to change out their appliance.

To start, participants can contact one of our pre-qualified vendors, to verify their eligibility, select a new appliance, and fill out an application. If approved, vendors will provide the Project Stove Swap incentive as a straight discount off of the total cost at the time of payment. Learn more about the application and change-out process »

Why Wood Smoke?

While the smell of wood smoke on a crisp November day may seem cozy and nostalgic, wood smoke is composed of gases, chemicals, and fine particles that can lead to a variety of serious health issues. The finest particles are so small that they can be absorbed by your lungs and enter your bloodstream, causing cardiac and respiratory complications. Learn more about your health and wood smoke »

While Minnesota is fortunate to have generally good air quality, negative health effects of air pollution are being observed at ever lower concentrations. Because of this, federal air quality standards are predicted to become stricter over time, putting Minnesota at risk of violating these standards.

Swapping out just one older wood stove for a new, more efficient model is the pollution reduction equivalent of removing over 700 cars from the road per year. In other words, it’s a cost effective way to proactively and voluntarily reduce air pollution, improve health outcomes, and avoid costly federal regulations. In addition, many of the heating appliances are made in Minnesota and all of the vendors are Minnesota-based so every dollar Project Stove Swap spends is pumped into the local economy.

We’re just getting Started

Project Stove Swap is just one of several efforts underway to help achieve Clean Air Minnesota’s goal of reducing man-made sources of fine particulate matter (soot) and ground level ozone precursor emissions (smog) by 10%.

Though we’re thrilled our clean air work is growing, we’re never really satisfied. While our efforts in Northeastern Minnesota will continue for at least the next year, we’re keeping our eyes peeled for ways to improve and expand the project.

Getting Involved

Want to get involved? Contact me at 612-334-3388 ext. 8109 to learn more about replacing your wood burning appliance, becoming a participating a vendor, or educating your community about wood smoke. Visit our frequently asked questions page for additional information.

Mikey Weitekamp

POSTED BY:

Senior Project Manager, Environmental Initiative

Air Pollution Advisory: Five Things You Can Do

July 20th, 2016

With this week’s heat wave in full swing, forecasts for ground level ozone, or smog, are forecast to spike, peaking this Friday with an air quality index of 101, a level classified as “Unhealthy for Sensitive Groups.” The air quality levels have triggered the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency to issue an air pollution advisory for the Twin Cities Metro and some outlying areas. While ozone is essential for life when it exists 10 to 30 miles above the earth’s surface in the stratosphere, ozone at ground level can best be compared to a sunburn on the lungs, causing irritation, triggering asthma, and contributing to reduced lung function over time.air alert map

Why does the spike coincide with the heat wave, you might ask? Ground level ozone, or smog, forms when Nitrogen Oxides (NOx) (pollutants from wood burning and internal combustion engines) react with volatile organic compounds (VOC’s) (what you smell when paint dries, when you fuel up, or when you have a bonfire) in the presence of heat and sunlight. With this week bringing an abundance of both heat and sunlight, the reactions that create smog will be running in high gear.

The good news is that there are some easy things that we can all do can do before or on air alert days to reduce  pollution and help us all breathe easier.

Reduce single-occupancy vehicle trips
Cars are a source of both VOCs and NOx, especially if they are in need of a tune-up. Consider avoiding single-occupancy trips by carpooling, taking public transit, or working from home on poor air quality days. Taking your car into the mechanic? Have them check to make sure your car’s pollution controls are running smoothly.

Avoid Burning Wood
Wood fires, both recreational and for heating purposes, are a substantial source of VOC’s, NOx, and particulate matter (another harmful pollutant). Skip the bonfire and go for a swim on air alert days.

Re-fuel after 6 p.m.
The smell of gasoline is actually the smell of volatile organic compounds that come out of your gas tank when you fill it up. By waiting to fuel up, you can avoid VOC emissions during the heat of the day when ozone formation is at its peak.

Postpone lawn/landscape maintenance
Small, two-stroke engines like those on most lawn equipment, can be a substantial source of both VOCs and NOx. In addition, cut grass itself emits VOCs. Consider holding off on mowing until the heat wave passes and save yourself a wicked sunburn.

Reduce/Defer use of Paints, Solvents, and other VOC-containing products
The volatile organic compounds in paints and solvents allow them to dry quickly and do their job, but they go into the atmosphere as they evaporate. Painting with a 105-degree heat index is no fun anyway, so consider holding off on that household project.

Have questions or want to learn more about what you can do to reduce your air pollution impact? Check on air quality forecasts on the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency’s website and consider signing up for alert e-mails and downloading their mobile app.

Visit Environmental Initiative’s website to learn about what Clean Air Minnesota partners are doing on an ongoing basis to improve air quality and how you can help.

Air pollution advisory map credit:  Minnesota Pollution Control Agency

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Mikey Weitekamp

POSTED BY:

Senior Project Manager, Environmental Initiative

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

The Life and Breath Report: 3 Things I Learned

March 9th, 2016

When I was considering making the switch from my previous work on environmental communications, waste and recycling to Clean Air Minnesota’s focus on air quality, my biggest motivator was air quality’s substantial and direct impact on the health of our communities. Air quality shapes our health and quality of life with every breath we take.

The recently released Life and Breath: How air pollution affects public health in the Twin Cities, puts an exclamation point on that statement by quantifying the real impact of air quality on human health in the Twin Cities.air and health report cover

What Surprised Me

While I’ve experienced the burning lungs and watery eyes that accompany a poor air quality day, the scale of the impact is literally breathtaking. Life and Breath estimates that air pollution was a significant contributor to roughly 2,000 deaths, 400 hospitalizations and 600 emergency room visits every year. These impacts fall disproportionately on the sick, the elderly, children with asthma, and disadvantaged communities that tend to be predisposed to respiratory and cardiac illness. Here are a couple of comparisons to put that in perspective:

  • If it were classified as its own category, poor air quality would be the sixth leading contributor to premature death, behind unintentional injury and ahead of Alzheimers disease.
  • In a single year, poor air quality contributes to more early deaths in the Twin Cities than car accidents caused over the last five years statewide.

The good news is that the problem is recognized and quantified, and Clean Air Minnesota partners spanning industry, government, and nonprofits have spent the last 15 years implementing innovative, voluntary emissions reduction projects to keep our state’s air worth breathing.

What we’re doing

As the convener of Clean Air Minnesota, Environmental Initiative has been fostering a dialogue and implementing projects to measurably improve air quality on the ground. From reducing diesel emissions through Project Green Fleet to business emission reduction projects and an upcoming wood stove changeout program, Environmental Initiative and Clean Air Minnesota’s partners continue to work hard every day to reduce emissions and improve quality of life in Minnesota.

What you can do

Want to join us in improving our state’s air quality? Consider a few of the easy actions below:

Be Air Aware: Be informed about our air quality. Download the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency’s Minnesota Air app or sign up for air quality alert e-mails.

Take Action: There are many things we can do in our daily lives to reduce our air pollution impacts. Take one small action to help air quality every week.

Spread the Word: Tell your family, friends, and colleagues about what air quality means to you and what you are doing to help. Encourage your workplace to become an Air Aware Employer to multiply your impact.

While the impacts of air pollution on human health are significant, Environmental Initiative and our Clean Air Minnesota partners are taking a uniquely Minnesotan approach to considerably improve our air quality. With your help, there is a bright future for our state’s air.

Mikey Weitekamp

POSTED BY:

Senior Project Manager, Environmental Initiative

Introducing Mikey Weitekamp – Senior Project Manager

February 15th, 2016

Hello! I’m Mikey Weitekamp, Environmental Initiative’s new Senior Project Manager. My primary focus will be on our clean air program, facilitating collaboration between residents, businesses, nonprofits, and government to reduce harmful air pollution.

My environmental roots go back to watching zebra mussels invade the Black and Mississippi River systems in southwestern Wisconsin. Being a nerdy kid with nothing better to do, I spent hours at a time diving for native clams to break off the zebra mussels. I didn’t know it at the time, but that interest would drive my personal and professional development.

I officially became a Minnesotan when I attended the University of Minnesota, earning dual degrees in Marketing and Environmental Sciences, Policy, and Management, with a minor in Forestry. During my time in school, I worked on projects ranging from collaborative, economic modeling of Minnesota’s Forest Industries to hauling compost by bike. After graduation, I spent a summer doing construction and stonemasonry at the Steger Wilderness Center while helping Will develop a business plan framework for the facility’s ongoing construction and operations.

For the past four years, I worked on the Waste Wise program at the Minnesota Chamber of Commerce, where we built innovative partnerships with local counties and municipalities to help businesses save money by diverting millions of pounds of waste. Among other projects, I had the pleasure of working with the Saint Paul Saints to equip CHS Field with state-of-the art waste reduction, recycling and composting systems.

I’m incredibly excited to join the team here at Environmental Initiative, and am looking forward to collaborating on common-sense approaches to improve air quality in our great state.

Mikey Weitekamp

POSTED BY:

Senior Project Manager, Environmental Initiative
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