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The Fierce Allegiance of Clean Air Minnesota

February 27th, 2017

Once upon a time, a group of organizations faced daunting air quality challenges. In 2001, the Twin Cities area experienced its first smog alerts in more than 30 years and the region nearly exceeded federal air quality standards. Rather than seeing it as a conflict laden, zero-sum situation, these individuals and organizations seized the moment to engage in a constructive dialogue. In a single event, our partners came together, but not as adversaries. Instead, they engaged and brought their different perspectives, voices, and skills to the table to achieve a common goal.

The Beginning of Clean Air Minnesota

Recognizing and valuing the common good of voluntary, pro-active action, a number of new and long-time Environmental Initiative partners used this dialogue to create Clean Air Minnesota (CAM). Each organization had to overcome their own internal challenges to participate. Yet, each could see the greater value of collaborative engagement, so they pushed their comfort levels and stuck with it.

Together they identified cost-effective and environmentally-sound ways to reduce emissions, decrease exposure, protect public health, and avoid economic and societal costs of violating air quality standards. Everyone had a different reason for supporting the effort.

We talked a lot—especially in those early days. We had to reconcile and balance conflicts between various emission-reduction project options, the desired returns of health benefits, and the realities of economic costs. We had rural and metro disputes. We confronted differences over technologies, costs, and ease of implementation related to emission reductions derived.

All the while, everything had to be voluntary. Our region violated no federal requirements; no one had to do anything. Ultimately, our partners’ fierce allegiance to this public-private partnership delivered simultaneous health benefits, emissions reductions, and jobs.

Clean Air Champions—Then and Now

These first partners, Mike Robertson with the Minnesota Chamber of Commerce, Lee Paddock from the Minnesota Center for Environmental Advocacy, David Thornton with the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency, and Mike Hansel with Flint Hills Resources, each played their part and worked to their strengths for the good of the partnership. Each gave up some level of control, but gained more in their collective actions. This group was truly living our values of “courageous innovation” and working “better together.”

The fierce allegiance to collaboration by our partners led to Project Green Fleet and cleaning up every eligible school bus in Minnesota, dozens of heavy-duty diesel engines, and even a few trains and tow boats. More recently, we’ve launched Project Stove Swap, which is also a change-out project, only for wood-burning devices. We also have been able to run the Clean Air Assistance Project, which helps small and medium-sized businesses find economical ways to reduce emissions.

As with CAM’s founding, it’s time for some constructive collaboration and action. We need to face the challenges of this time, stand as a beacon, and get down to some old-fashioned Environmental Initiative-style project work. We need to step up our efforts and expand the impact of emission reduction activities.

We need a new set of champions with that same fierce commitment to our mutual, common cause. We need to recognize and accept the risks– and, equally value and reap the rewards of collaboration. In these uncertain times, we should all be doing everything we can to advance this still unique and valuable public-private partnership and realize our common goals of cleaner, healthier air, as well as the associated economic gains.

Who will model earlier CAM champions? Who will step forward to lead together today?


A note from Environmental Initiative:
In honor of Environmental Initiative’s 25th birthday, members of our staff will take turns throughout the year highlighting the organization’s most influential and effective collaborators. We want to say thank you to the amazing people who help us achieve all we do.

Bill Droessler

POSTED BY:

Senior Director of Strategic Project Planning

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

Minnesota Pollution Control Agency 2017 Report: The Air We Breathe

January 12th, 2017

Last week, the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency (MPCA) released its biennial air quality report, The air we breathe: The state of Minnesota’s air quality 2017. It’s a great place to learn about all things air quality in the state.

The good news is that our air is pretty clean—better than most of the rest of the country. Minnesota has seen huge improvements in air quality since the start of the Clean Air Act, all while our economy has continued to grow.

Despite these major improvements, poor air quality continues to affect people here in Minnesota. Sometimes that can be easy to forget when we compare our typically blue skies to images of Beijing and other big cities.  Scientists are constantly learning that air pollution is harmful at lower and lower levels, even at levels below national standards. Young children, the elderly, and people with lung conditions, such as asthma, are particularly susceptible to the effects of air pollution, but dirty air can affect us all. Lower-income communities and communities of color are also both disproportionately exposed to air pollution and more vulnerable to its adverse health effects.

Today, most of Minnesota’s air pollution comes from smaller, widespread sources in our neighborhoods. Only about a quarter of the air pollution in Minnesota comes from “smokestack” facilities such as power plants and factories. The remaining 75% comes from a wide variety of things we see in our daily lives: our vehicles, local businesses, heating and cooling technologies, and yard and recreational equipment.

 

Many of the successes we’ve achieved since the start of the Clean Air Act have come through regulating large facilities. Now, an important part of the MPCA’s work is with partners in the non-profit, business, and governmental sectors, including our work with Clean Air Minnesota. With our partners, we are able to develop innovative, often voluntary programs to help Minnesotans reduce their contributions to air pollution.

The MPCA strives to ensure our state’s air is healthy for all to breathe, even for the most vulnerable Minnesotans.  We’ve made important progress, but there is still much for us all to do. I highly encourage everyone to check out BeAirAwareMN.org to learn how you can both reduce your emissions and your exposure to air pollution. Our future success will depend on each and every one of us making choices to help limit emissions.

I hope you all will take a little time to explore some of the report highlights, or even dive into the report itself and learn all about the air we breathe!

Amanda Jarrett Smith

POSTED BY:

Air Policy Planner, Minnesota Pollution Control Agency

In the Air: December News

December 27th, 2016

Welcome to this month’s installment of Environmental Initiative’s new blog series focused on the environmental, economic, and health effects of air pollution. Think of this series as an easy way to keep up on the latest local and global air quality stories.

Here are the headlines and reporting that caught our attention this month – including an air quality success from the City of Minneapolis Green Business Cost Share Program and why reducing soot emissions could be a quick win for the climate:

school bus tail pipesFinance & Commerce
Minneapolis helps businesses cut pollution »

The Guardian
Why cutting soot emissions is ‘fastest solution’ to slowing Arctic ice melt »

Time
Beijing’s Air Pollution is Frightening. This video shows how bad it gets »

The Economic Times
How much does air pollution cost in India? 3 percent of its GDP. »

Spot a story worth sharing? Leave a comment below or send me a note and we’ll consider it for a future post.

Photo credit: Minnesota Pollution Control Agency 

Bill Droessler

POSTED BY:

Senior Director of Strategic Project Planning

In the Air: November News

November 30th, 2016

Welcome to the second installment of a new, monthly blog series focused on the environmental, economic, and health effects of air pollution exposure. Think of this as an easy way to keep up to date on air quality news.

In this month’s issue, learn about vulnerable populations, how trees can cut air pollution, and the first EV shuttle bus fleet.

AIR QUALITY AND THE ENVIRONMENT


Study: Tree planting pays off for Minneapolis, other cities

A study conducted by The Nature Conservancy found that Minneapolis was among 16 North American cities where there is a return on investment for planting trees. They provide both a cooling effect and significant reductions in air pollution. Read MPR’s coverage »

Rise in global carbon emissions slows

The Scientific American reports, “While Americans used more oil and gas in 2015, the United States decreased emissions by 2.6 percent as the use of coal declined. Researchers expect to see a decrease in emissions of 1.7 percent in 2016.” Read the full story »

 

AIR QUALITY AND THE ECONOMY

School bus
First ever EV shuttle bus fleet launches

EV company Proterra and real estate company JLL are partnering to create an electric bus fleet in Chicago. The new fleet of 10 electric buses is more economical the first all-electric shuttle fleet to operate in the United States. Learn more »

Introducing Project Stove Swap  

Project Stove Swap provides financial incentives to residents, businesses, and organizations to replace old appliances with more efficient, less-polluting technologies. Read more about Project Stove Swap and how your organization can become more efficient »

A step toward producing cleaner air

Mathiowetz Construction in Sleepy Eye, Minnesota partnered with Project Green Fleet to retrofit one of their loaders.  Learn more about their commitment to cleaner air »

 

AIR QUALITY AND HEALTH


300M Children are breathing extremely toxic air, UNICEFF says

According to a UNICEFF report released this month, it is estimated that 300 million children around the world are breathing toxic air. Children are among the populations most vulnerable to air pollution’s health effects, and many of the affected live in areas “where outdoor air pollution exceeds international guidelines by at least six times.”

Air pollution linked to blood vessel damage in healthy young adults

While we know air pollution can impact vulnerable populations, like children and the elderly, a new study from the University of Louisville reports that fine particulate matter may be associated with blood vessel damage among young, healthy adults. Read the report »

Bill Droessler

POSTED BY:

Senior Director of Strategic Project Planning

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

In the Air: October News

October 31st, 2016

Welcome to a new blog series!

Every month, we’ll be keeping you up to date with the latest in air quality news. Think of this as your one-stop shop for air news, with special focus on the environmental, economic, and health effects of air pollution exposure.

In this month’s issue, learn about local air quality heroes, how clean air legislation affects the way we see the world, and how science is advancing around air pollution and health.

Air Quality and the Environment


Alternate Reality: U.S. Cities without The Clean Air Act

In a weird, alternate reality, you can see two versions of major U.S. skylines: one with The Clean Air Act, and one without. The results? The Statue of Liberty would be “submerged in a sea of smog” without the legislation. See the eerie photos for yourself »


Mathiowetz Construction Invests in Cleaner Air

A construction company in Sleepy Eye, Minnesota took the steps to invest in clean air with Project Green Fleet. Pollution reductions from their diesel equipment upgrades are equal to removing 2,200 cars from the road each year in Minnesota. Read about their accomplishments »

 

Air Quality and the Economy


Judge Approves VW’s $14.7 Billion Settlement Over Emissions Scandal

Earlier this month, a federal judge approved the “largest civil settlement in automaker history” with Volkswagen in regard to their vehicle emissions. The process of compensating U.S. car-owners is beginning now. NPR covers this historic settlement »


Clean Car Standards Continue to Save Americans Money, Reduce Air Pollution

According to the Environmental Protection Agency, consumers will save an estimated 1.7 trillion dollars in gas money over the life of the current federal Clean Car Standards. In doing so, we’ll eliminate 6 billion metric tons of air pollution. Read more about how consumers benefit from the Clean Car Standards »

 

Air Quality and Health


In New Ozone Alert, A Warning of Harm to Plants and to People

Midwest scientists continue to discover the negative effects air pollution can have on the environment and our bodies. As the world warms, ground-level ozone is causing plants to “turn brown and sickly,” and is having negative health outcomes in people as well. Ozone is both a naturally occurring and human-created gas, but on the ground level, it can be highly toxic. Learn more »


Air Pollution a Risk Factor for Diabetes, Say Researchers

A new study suggests air pollution exposure in a place of residence can increase the risk of developing insulin resistance, a pre-diabetic state. As science advances, we discover more about how air pollution affects us, and federal air regulations can become more stringent as a result. Read the study »

Bill Droessler

POSTED BY:

Senior Director of Strategic Project Planning

Introducing the Clean Air Assistance Project

October 5th, 2016

Surprise! We launched a new project! Well, sort of…

Previously known as our Area Source Emission Reduction project, the Clean Air Assistance Project is an effort to connect businesses with grants and technical resources to voluntarily reduce air pollution.

Current resources are available through the City of Minneapolis, Minnesota Pollution Control Agency (MPCA), the University of Minnesota Technical Assistance Program (MnTAP), and Minnesota Occupational Safety and Health Administration (MnOSHA). Environmental Initiative has provided “customer service” to businesses interested in leveraging these resources to voluntarily reduce their emissions. Our services ranged from business engagement and recruitment, grant application assistance, and overall project coordination between funders, vendors, and grantees. We’re still doing this work, but we felt that is was time for us to put our money where our mouth is.

With that, we are excited to announce that Environmental Initiative has additional funding to complement existing programs. Funds are available to businesses of all sizes, locations, and across industry sectors. You name it—auto shops in Alexandria, degreasers in Duluth, printers in Pipestone, and everything in between—they’re all eligible to participate.

Exciting, right? We thought so, too. That’s why we renamed this project to reflect the expansion. We’re hoping to raise additional funds to increases our impact, expand outreach to additional geographical areas and businesses, and further reduce air pollution across the state.

Environmental Initiative is leading the Clean Air Assistance Project, which operates under the umbrella of Clean Air Minnesota, a coalition of diverse partners working toward a common goal of 10% statewide emission reductions.

Through existing grant programs and Environmental Initiative outreach, the combined efforts of Clean Air Minnesota partners have eliminated more than 25 tons of the ozone-forming emissions known as Volatile Organic Compounds (VOCs).

At the same time, these programs invested over $800,000 in businesses that embraced cutting-edge technologies as well as materials that position them on the forefront of innovative sustainability. Take a minute to watch this video from the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency about businesses who’ve upgraded equipment or processes for cleaner air:

We’re proud to offer resources that promote sustainable and tangible solutions to our environmental, economic, and public health challenges.

Email me or call 612-334-3388 ext. 8113 to find out more about the financial resources available now and how to get started reducing emissions at your business.

Bjorn Olson

POSTED BY:

Senior Environmental Project Associate

Three Minnesota Construction Companies Enroll in Project Green Fleet

September 13th, 2016

What do Anoka, Albertville, and Sleepy Eye all have in common? They’ll all be breathing easier for years to come, thanks to three construction companies and their commitment to clean air.

Erin Contracting, Mathiowetz Construction, and Northdale Construction all partnered with Project Green Fleet in order to ensure residents in their communities benefit from clean air. These three companies are now operating either upgraded or replaced diesel machines, meaning each is more fuel efficient and releasing less pollutants into the air.Frontloader

Project Green Fleet is a voluntary statewide effort run by Environmental Initiative to reduce diesel pollution. We raise money to help businesses, like construction companies, upgrade engines and equipment to reduce air emissions. Participating fleets also help share in the cost of each project.

Mathiowetz Construction is operating a newer, cleaner bulldozer as a result of the partnership. Replacing the engine in this one piece of equipment is the equivalent of removing 2,200 cars from the road every year. Similar results exist with Erin Contracting and Northdale Construction, both of which upgraded their diesel loaders. Repowering both loaders is the equivalent of removing nearly 800 cars each from the road annually.

“We’ve worked hard to establish company protocols to minimize impacts on the environment,” said Brian Mathiowetz, CEO of Mathiowetz Construction. “Participating in Project Green Fleet helps us save money, upgrade equipment earlier than we otherwise would, and do our part to keep Minnesota’s air clean. We’re proud to be a part of this effort.”

WHY?

Diesel engines are very important to our economy—they move our goods and provide valuable services. However, many diesel engines can have striking health costs associated with air pollution. Vulnerable populations, like children, the elderly, and those with heart and lung conditions are especially susceptible to health hazards. Air pollution is associated with asthma and a number of cardiovascular problems.

Upgrading diesel fleets helps reduce these effects. Combined with the high costs of replacing them, the longevity of diesel engines mean that many older and less efficient models are still in operation today. Upgrades still require a significant investment by the fleet, but Project Green Fleet helps make it easier for companies to decrease their impact.

Minnesota’s air quality is generally good, but we can always be doing more. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency is always releasing more stringent emission requirements as we learn more about the health effects of poor air quality.

In partnership with the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency, Environmental Initiative has retrofitted 3,200 buses and 1,400 heavy-duty diesel engines in Minnesota through Project Green Fleet. To learn more about being part of Project Green Fleet or how it works, visit our information page. »

We’re always excited to partner with local companies to improve air quality across the state. Their commitment to clean air means we all have a little more room to breathe.

Bjorn Olson

POSTED BY:

Senior Environmental Project Associate

Minneapolis recognized nationally for Green Business Cost Sharing Program

August 23rd, 2016

A big congratulations are in order for the City of Minneapolis!

Earlier this month, the National Association of County and City Health Officials’ (NACCHO) awarded the Model Practice Award to the City of Minneapolis. The national award honors the city’s Green Business Cost Sharing Program. The Green Business Cost Sharing Program was one of 23 local health department programs across the nation to receive NACCHO’s prestigious Model Practice Award.

The program offers funds to small businesses to make equipment conversions and adopt other practices that reduce emissions, which impact air quality. Emissions from these smaller, more dispersed sources aren’t regulated like power plants or other large facilities. Because of this, smaller area sources like auto body shops or printing facilities are a growing concern for our region.

The Green Business Cost Sharing Program is unique in that it treats businesses as a potential partner to address pollution. According to city officials, since 2013, the program has reduced pollution from entering Minneapolis air by nearly 12 tons.

Along with the City of Minneapolis, Minnesota Pollution Control Agency, and Minnesota Technical Assistance Program, Environmental Initiative is a proud partner in the Green Business Cost Share Program through Clean Air Minnesota, a statewide public-private partnership to improve air quality.

For more information, visit www.minneapolismn.gov/greenbusiness.

 

 

Bill Droessler

POSTED BY:

Senior Director of Strategic Project Planning

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