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Mike Robertson: Critical Collaborator Award Recipient

April 4th, 2017

The Critical Collaborator award recognizes an individual over the age of 50 who has utilized partnership and collaboration to achieve positive and lasting environmental outcomes.

Mike Robertson has been part of nearly every major environmental policy decision in Minnesota for the last 30 years. Though he’s retired now from his time as an Environmental Lobbyist and Attorney for various public and private sector clients, he’s one of the founding members and minds behind Clean Air Minnesota and the Clean Water Legacy Act. You can read more about his professional career on our recipients page

Join us in honoring Mike at the 25th Anniversary Environmental Initiative Awards on May 25, 2017. Purchase your seats or tables here » 

We have two Critical Collaborator recipients this year, and I got to sit down with them both and talk about their career, passions, and get their advice for those currently working on environmental issues.

SITTING DOWN WITH MIKE ROBERTSON

What excites you about the environmental community, sector, or movement in Minnesota?

I think it’s the tradition that we started to build through Environmental Initiative of collaboration. It’s really the vehicle to make things happen, and that is what excited me about working with Environmental Initiative and being a leader in that group.

There are always going to be specific issues where there is conflict on the environment—an example would be the future of mining in Minnesota. For the most part, though, I think collaboration is possible and successful if the various groups are working together and the work that we’ve done at Environmental Initiative has given me confidence that, going forward, this tradition that we’ve built can work for the future.

You’re one of the founding members of Clean Air Minnesota—as well as one of the minds that shaped the effort. What made you go to bat for this group?

Clean Air Minnesota was really important because in the evaluation of the state’s air quality problems, the data showed that 75% of air pollution was coming from non-point sources. In other words, all the industries had permits for their point-source air issues, and followed those for the most part, and still we were concerned about meeting the ozone standard and other air quality standards.

Part of the federal law is that if the state is not in compliance, then it’s the point source permit holders (the industries) who may be penalized for that. Because pollution was coming from smaller non-smoke stack pollution, there’s no way that Minnesota could maintain or improve air quality without having a collaborative process. Local governments, business, and the environmental community needed to try to take some voluntary actions to maintain the status of our air quality.

Partnership and consensus isn’t always easy. What was your most difficult collaborative endeavor (or problem)?

One was very successful, and the other was much less so.

The most successful was the Clean Water Legacy Project where we formed a group which worked on creating a framework for addressing the state’s water quality issues, and then finding a source of funding. It took several years to figure this out, with all these interests, and they are still working together on it. It was a very successful process, and the legislature agreed with the legislation and eventually found a method to fund and provide resources to the state agencies and local governments. It’s an effort that will go on for many, many years and I think it’s a tremendous success.

The one that was more difficult was the Environmental Initiative stakeholder process on chemical regulation. The federal government, under the Toxic Substances Control Act, regulates hazardous substances. That law needed work for a long time, and Congress was not able to do it, and there were efforts for the state regulation of chemicals—so we brought the stakeholders together.

It was a very interesting process, but there was not significant consensus that came out of it. One thing that did occur after the fact was that Congress eventually did pass amendments to the Toxic Substance Control Act which are now being implemented and hopefully the situation will improve.

As you look at these issues over time, one factor of success is getting the timing right. At the time in which we were working on the chemical issue, the timing wasn’t exactly right. With air and water quality, everybody moved together.

What advice would you give those currently working in the environmental sector?

My advice would be that environmental professionals and volunteers need to get to know each other. Everybody kind of works in a different environment, representing different interests. One of the things that I’ve discovered over the years is that people need to get together and get to know each other and get to know the issues that are of concern to them. Even though you may not be working at the top level of policymaking, even if you’re an engineer working on a permit, or you’re a volunteer working in your community—all the folks affecting the issue need to get together and talk. It doesn’t need to be done regarding a specific issue, and just the professional relationships that can develop and can be helpful later when folks are in a situation of conflict.

Your favorite Environmental Initiative memory… (serious, funny, impactful… your choice!)

The memory that I have is being a member of Environmental Initiative’s board of directors back in 2003. We brought this question of creating a collaborative process on water quality (The Clean Water Legacy Project) to the board, and there was a lot of concern about that at the time. Environmental Initiative had been focusing on a lot on dialogue and bringing people together to talk about the issues, and now we were talking about something very different, which was actually trying to find solutions in an elaborate process. It hadn’t been tried before at the organization.

I remember the board meeting where that decision was made. The board eventually came around and made the decision that, ‘Yes, we need to go forward.’ I think that changed Environmental Initiative from that day forward. We worked on The Clean Water Legacy Project for three or four years, it was successful, and it developed the organization’s experience in how to collaborate. It was the genesis of the collaborative effort in Minnesota, and it worked. The air quality process (Clean Air Minnesota) went from there, the solid waste collaboration, the chemical dialogue—so there are huge successes that came out of that first collaborative endeavor in 2003.


A note from Environmental Initiative
In honor of our 25th Anniversary, we’re taking the time to acknowledge those who’ve been essential and influential in Minnesota’s environmental community. In addition to celebrating outstanding projects, we’re also recognizing the leaders that have helped us get to this point, and those that will continue to improve our community.

Damian Goebel

POSTED BY:

Communications Director

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: 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

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

Area Source Emissions and VOCs: Smaller, Dispersed Sources of Pollution

June 12th, 2015

What can I say about area source emissions, or VOCs, that hasn’t been said already? Probably a lot, because DSC02882webmany people don’t know what the heck I’m talking about…

Long story short, area source emissions are smaller and more dispersed. They aren’t regulated like “point sources” (think smokestacks). VOCs (volatile organic compounds) are an example of area source emissions that contribute to ground-level ozone.

Why is that bad? Well, for one, breathing ozone has been described as “sunburn on the lungs.” If that isn’t enough, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency is lowering ground-level ozone standards this fall. Minnesota is very close to violating these new standards, which, if we do, would mean a host of new restrictions required by our federal friends. Regardless of where the standards are set, there’s a benefit to reducing emissions proactively and voluntarily — cleaner air means healthier air — it’s really that simple.

So, where do area source emissions like VOCs come from?

VOCs are emitted from a variety of sectors including auto body shops, manufacturing, printing, and dry cleaners, among others. Basically, anything involving solvents, lubricants, or hydraulics, as examples. If you get a whiff of something that smells like spray paint, it’s probably a VOC.

So, what can we do about it?

Enter stage left: your friendly nonprofit, Environmental Initiative.

(more…)

Bjorn Olson

POSTED BY:

Senior Environmental Project Associate

Asthma and Air Quality in North Minneapolis

February 6th, 2015

I’m thrilled to share that Environmental Initiative has been invited to participate in an upcoming forum on health and the environment with Congressman Keith Ellison.event flier

EVENT DETAILS
Tuesday, February 17, 2015
6:00 p.m. – 7:30 p.m.
Shiloh Temple
1201 West Broadway Avenue
Minneapolis, MN 55411

We know air pollution, from fine particles to ozone forming chemicals, have an adverse impact on our health and quality of life. More research in recent years has shown that poor air quality is linked to asthma and other negative health impacts.

The compounding issues that lead to high asthma rates are complicated, but we also know the adverse 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.

I will be speaking about actions Clean Air Minnesota partners are taking to voluntarily address poor air quality as part of a panel discussion on the causes of asthma and what our community is doing to address the issue. Other panelists include:

  • Assistant Commissioner David Thornton, Minnesota Pollution Control Agency
  • Shirlynn LaChapelle, Minnesota Black Nurses Association
  • Dan Huff, City of Minneapolis Health Department
  • Karen Monahan, Sierra Club

I hope you can participate in this important conversation. The event is free and open to all who wish to attend. Feel free to contact me to learn more, or call Congressman Keith Ellison’s office at 612-522-1212.

Gena Gerard

POSTED BY:

Director, Clean Air Program

Weekly Wrap-Up: Emerging Research

April 18th, 2014

Over the past few weeks, a series of new research endeavors and published studies have caught our eye. Here’s the latest so you can be informed and armed with interesting things to share at your holiday tables this weekend:

  1. Graphic: New study out of the University of Minnesota reveals that people of color live in neighborhoods with more air pollution than whites. (Star Tribune)
  2. What are Ultra Fine Particles and why is the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency measuring them? (KARE 11)
  3. The Minnesota Department of Natural Resources received over 50,000 public comments on the PolyMet mining project. How on earth are they processing all of the input? (MinnPost)
  4. The seven most important findings from the latest Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change Climate Science Report (Mashable).
  5. New survey reveals governments are failing to lead on sustainability. (GreenBiz)
Emily Franklin

POSTED BY:

Director of Communications

Weekly Wrap-Up: Air Pollution

February 14th, 2014

Last week, the Clean Air Minnesota Work Group reconvened to continue prioritizing strategies to reduce emissions. We heard presentations about two possible ideas: expanding the use of alternative fuels and making investments in our urban forests. Note: you can check out the presentations here. The goal of Clean Air Minnesota is to translate good ideas into actual air quality projects that reduce ozone and fine particulate matter emissions.

The creativity of this group is inspiring and air quality has been on my mind as a result. Here’s the top content I’ve picked up on air quality and air pollution in recent weeks:

  1. More reasons to keep reducing emissions: EPA considers tightening the ozone standard to 60ppm (E&E Publishing).
  2. Oregon and California work to clean up older diesel vehicles (Portland Tribune).
  3. INFOGRAPHIC: A crackling fire may smell good, but it’s not good for you. (New Mexico Environmental Public Health Tracking).
  4. Target pays fine for diesel generator air pollution violations (Star Tribune).
  5. Air quality and health: Breathing air pollution during pregnancy may increase complications like preeclampsia (Daily News & Analysis: India).

At Environmental Initiative we’re dedicated to reducing emissions collaboratively in partnership with diverse stakeholders through our facilitation of the Clean Air Minnesota partnership. Learn more here »

 

Emily Franklin

POSTED BY:

Director of Communications
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