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Posts Tagged ‘Minnesota Pollution Control Agency’

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 These cars typically have outdated or broken emission controls or exhaust equipment that would typically be identified in vehicle emissions testing programs run in areas that have violated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

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

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

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

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

We’re an Air Aware Employer. Are you?

May 4th, 2016

Let’s be honest. Minnesota isn’t Beijing or New Dehli. Our air quality is generally good and we currently meet all federal regulations for clean air. But, do you know what is a little bit scary? Scientists are observing negative health effects from lower and lower levels of pollution. A recent headline even links polluted air to weight gain. Seriously.

Dirty air and its connection to our health are just one of the reasons why Environmental Initiative is committed to working with our Clean Air Minnesota partners to voluntarily reduce emissions – regardless of where federal air quality standards are set. And, it’s why we’ve signed up to be an Air Aware employer. air-aware-badge-300-134

The Be Air Aware employer program is a cooperative effort of Minnesota state government agencies and their partners. The goal is to help raise awareness, to share information on days when air is unhealthy, and to pass along ideas for how you and your employees can help minimize air pollution. As a participant in the program you’ll:

  • Receive air quality alerts to share with your employees on days when air quality is poor
  • Get tips on how employees can minimize their exposure to and help reduce air pollution
  • Receive notice of new stories posted on BeAirAwareMN.org
  • Receive BeAirAwareMN.org promotional items for your website and social media accounts
  • Join a network of like-minded employers committed to clean air

On days when air quality is poor, it might not be healthy for your employees or their children to exercise outdoors. Through Be Air Aware, you’ll be notified of air quality conditions in Minnesota, which will keep your employees informed so they can minimize their exposure to air pollution.

I’m the contact person at Environmental Initiative who receives information from Be Air Aware. I pass along messages and tips from Be Air Aware to the Environmental Initiative staff. Easy, right? Since the program’s launch, 17 organizations have joined, connecting with more than 30,000 employees. Will you?

May 2 – May 6 is Air Quality Awareness week. What better way to celebrate than to sign up for the program and keep your employees informed?

Contact Rebecca Place at the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency to become a Be Air Aware employer or to learn more.

Emily Franklin

POSTED BY:

Director of Communications

Working Together With Honor, Humility, and Humor

December 16th, 2015

An old coach taught us to compete and conduct ourselves with honor, humility, and humor. I don’t know whether or not that was original, but it resonated and stuck with me. My time and work at Environmental Initiative strike the same chord as that coach’s lesson. I’ve stayed with, and came back to, Environmental Initiative because our mission, our approach, and our partners fit that lesson equally well.

With diverse partners as dedicated as we are, we do hard, meaningful work. Many times in the air quality world, what we do is the first time it’s been done in Minnesota. At the same time, there is always that Environmental Initiative flavor – we rarely do anythProject Green Fleet partners on the Becky Sue tugboating like everyone else. Our projects and events are always uniquely crafted and implemented. In fact, we just successfully pitched a project that involved telling the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency that every other time they’ve done this type of project it was wrong. Well, not wrong necessarily, but that we could do it better with a different model. But, of course, our message was conveyed with humility.

We typically do our work well and with minimal fanfare. Our projects have garnered regional and national awards, but we did the work to reach the outcomes. The recognition follows the effort and the results.

Most of my time these days is spent working on Clean Air Minnesota, a partnership between business, government, and nonprofit leaders that has been working to reduce emissions voluntarily since 2003. Some of you might not know, but Clean Air Minnesota was originally expected to be around for only a few years. Thankfully, we had some staying power and a proven worth based upon consistently achieving valuable outcomes. With our partners, we have also kept our eyes on the horizon – always looking to maintain this successful and mutually beneficial public/private partnership. Along with always demonstrating meaningful results, this is fundamental to our success.

Another one of my favorite things about this job is the diversity of partners with whom we get to work. It is refreshing that we can be concerned first and foremost with results and not get caught up in the self-imposed limitations around descriptions and positions that plague so much of our society today. I feel lucky to have the opportunity to work cooperatively, simultaneously, and constructively for the common good with all of our partners. And, especially with the leadership of the Minnesota Chamber of Commerce, the Minnesota Center for Environmental Advocacy, and the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency. That is a broad spectrum of wisdom and knowledge upon which to draw. And for that, I am thankful.

If you share some of these values, join me in supporting Environmental Initiative with a financial contribution. Our current and past board of directors have contributed $15,000 to help us raise another $15,000 from individuals like you between now and December 31st. Annual or recurring monthly membership contributions will be matched dollar for dollar.

Bill Droessler

POSTED BY:

Senior Director of Strategic Project Planning

Emission Reduction Successes and New Study Build Support for Ongoing Efforts to Improve Minnesota’s Air Quality

July 16th, 2015

As we complete preparations for the next phase of Clean Air Minnesota – the state’s ongoing public and private partnership on air quality, this is a good time to take stock of our recent accomplishments. At the June Clean Air Minnesota meeting, each of the project teams presented their activities and associated emissions reductions, education gains, and plans for the future.

Air Alert Education and Outreach Team

  • Launched BeAirAware website which is a resource for residents, communities, and businesses concerned about how air quality affects health.
  • Increased the number of people and organizations receiving air pollution health alerts on poor air quality days.

Gas Can Exchange Team

  • Exchanged 1,500 spill-proof gas cans in Washington and Ramsey Counties.
  • Established a successful model exchange and education program, bringing in hundreds of first-time visitors, which increases public awareness of air quality and health.

Mobile Source Team

  • Completed all eligible school bus retrofits and supported another 21 heavy-duty diesel engine improvement projects.
  • Updating plans for additional diesel fleet recruitment and collecting and analyzing fleet survey information for future emission reduction projects.

Community Forestry Team

  • Hennepin County installed a gravel-bed nursery to provide replacement trees for ones soon to be destroyed by emerald ash borer; a cost effective way for the county to replace trees on county property.
  • Successful LCCMR grant proposal to build volunteer base and maintain trees.
  • Completed health impact assessment related to community forestry issues and legislative funding proposals were introduced; all of which helps promote the many values of large-scale community forestry efforts.

Wood Smoke Team

  • Education activities to raise awareness on the health effects of woodsmoke and smarter ways to burn wood through the Minnesota State Fair Eco-Experience and American Lung Association in Minnesota’s recent public outreach efforts.
  • A Minnesota Power supported wood stove change-out project for Northeast Minnesota is in final preparation stages.

Area Source Team

  • The Minnesota Pollution Control Agency and City of Minneapolis programs achieved multiple tons of emission reductions and both programs are hoping to expand in 2016. Read more »
  • Outreach, education, and funding efforts continued through Environmental Initiative and the Minnesota Technical Assistance Program.

(more…)

Bill Droessler

POSTED BY:

Senior Director of Strategic Project Planning

Businesses Partner With State and Local Government to Reduce Emissions

July 2nd, 2015

Is there something in the air? Thanks to the work of several local businesses, the answer is actually, “less pollution!” The Minnesota Pollution Control Agency and City of Minneapolis both have grant programs in place to help businesses voluntarily reduce emissions from their operations. And, rightly so, these businesses and government agencies are getting some well-deserved recognition for their work.

Earlier this week, Congressman Keith Ellison visited Ramin Hakimi and his staff at Oscar Auto Body in Minneapolis. A few of our staff participated in the visit as part of our role connecting business-owners like Ramin to the state and local resources available to reduce emissions. By installing a new paint booth that uses less toxic waterborne paint, emissions have been reduced at Oscar Auto Body by 600-700 pounds per year.

In addition to Congressman Ellison’s visit to Oscar Auto Body, a few other stories about air quality, volatile organic compounds, and emissions reductions efforts have popped up recently:

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency plans to release more stringent standards for ground level ozone this coming October. We want to see programs like these continue and expand. As a larger percentage of Minnesota’s air pollution comes from smaller and more dispersed sources, voluntary projects like these are really important. Regardless of where we end up under the new standards, projects like this are part of the solution to the air quality challenges our region faces.

If you’re interested in helping us think through ways to help increase the number of businesses who get access to the resources they need to improve air quality and reduce negative health impacts, contact Bill Droessler at 612-334-3388 ext. 105.

Emily Franklin

POSTED BY:

Director of Communications

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
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