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Convening & Collaborating in Grand Rapids

September 5th, 2017

Stop me if you’ve heard this one: An environmentalist, a diesel vendor, and a public health worker are sitting around a table in Grand Rapids…

Despite being tantalizing close to another “Sven and Ole” knee-slapper, these were just a few of the participants that gathered on Tuesday, August 15 at our most recent event: the Clean Air Collaborative.

As many of you may know, our Clean Air program has been experiencing exponential growth in partners and projects that reduce air pollution emissions and invest in Minnesota’s economy. As bigger and better opportunities lie ahead, this was the perfect time to reconnect with partners and stakeholders in Greater Minnesota. As our last Northern Minnesota convening event was a Clean Air Minnesota meeting in Duluth in June of 2014, we were overdue for a visit!

Our goal was to reintroduce ourselves to the region and, most importantly, learn about Northern Minnesota’s priorities from Northern Minnesotans. With Blandin Foundation generously hosting and resources provided by the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency and Flint Hills Resources, the event was a huge success. Representatives from private, public, tribal government and non-profit sectors were all in attendance having meaningful conversation.

Event Snapshot: Outcomes & Attendees

The event began with presentations of Clean Air Minnesota programs, projects and partners, but the real pay dirt came from the facilitated breakouts sessions that followed. Participants explored:

  • Cost-effective ways to use Volkswagen settlement dollars to better Minnesota’s environment, economy and public health
  • A possible logging truck project through Project Green Fleet’s clean diesel work
  • Actions to assist low-income residents in Northern Minnesota and on tribal lands access Project Stove Swap benefits
  • How to engage other professional associations and community organizations in air quality, energy, and other environmental work
  • Partnership opportunities that advance voluntary emission reductions and investment in Northern Minnesota

When the Itasca County Public Health Department is having lively discussions with the Hearth, Patio, and Barbecue Association, you know you’re doing something right. Other organizations, agencies, businesses, and governments in attendance included:

  • American Lung Association
  • CAT Ziegler, Inc.
  • Fireplace Lifestyles, Inc.
  • Fond du Lac Band of Lake Superior Chippewa
  • Iron Range Resources and Rehabilitation Board
  • Leech Lake Band of Ojibwe
  • Minnesota Department of Natural Resources
  • Minnesota Logger Education Program
  • Minnesota Pollution Control Agency
  • Minnesota Power, an ALLETE Company
  • Northern Minnesota Builders Association
  • Nuss Trucking and Equipment
  • Red Lake Band of Chippewa
  • St. Louis County
  • And many more

As always, the hours fly by with such fantastic people and before we knew it, we were on our way. Though our time was short, it was extremely productive and just the beginning of our push to continue our work for the benefit of Minnesota’s environment and its people. If you’re interested in what we talked about, presentations or the agenda, all materials are posted on our website »

As the great Herb Brooks once said, “Great moments are born from great opportunities.” Here at Environmental Initiative, we look forward to making many great moments to come.

Bjorn Olson

POSTED BY:

Senior Environmental Project Associate

Minnesota Power: A Champion of Regional Success

July 20th, 2017

As we head out into these bright summer mornings, many of our thoughts turn north—toward cabins, lakes, forests, fishing, boats and hammocks. Much of my work at Environmental Initiative takes place in northern Minnesota, so as my thoughts go north, I am also grateful for those who champion clean air in that part of the state, like Minnesota Power.

Minnesota Power is a founding member of Clean Air Minnesota and its support has been critical to not only our air work as a whole, but Project Stove Swap and Project Green Fleet  specifically.

A PARTNER FROM THE BEGINNING

"Schoo Bus"At the beginning of Project Green Fleet, Minnesota Power was one of our first partners to help us work with a private school bus fleet. Right after the project was announced, Mike Cashin and Margaret Hodnik, now retired, of Minnesota Power offered their offices and arranged meetings with bus companies. Again and again, Mike and his colleagues were willing and eager to put their influence to work in support of the project to reduce bus emissions.

That local connection was key. After a meeting with Voyageur Bus Co. arranged by Minnesota Power, we got to work retrofitting buses in the Duluth area that summer, starting with the Voyageur fleet– the first private fleet to work with us. It would not have happened had our friends at Minnesota Power not been willing to take a risk and stick their necks out on our behalf.

TODAY: PROMOTING ENERGY EFFICIENCY IN NORTHERN MINNESOTA

Fast forward to today, and Minnesota Power’s steadfast, open-minded support continues. For years, partners in Clean Air Minnesota have known that wood stove swap-outs are a highly cost-effective means to reduce a variety of air pollutants. The only barrier has been a lack of funding to run a large-scale project in Minnesota. While these projects have taken place in many other states, they tend to be relatively short-term efforts that fade once the initial funds are expended.

Minnesota Power worked with the Environmental Protection Agency and the Department of Justice to improve the way wood stove change-out programs could work, mirroring a long-term, public-private model. Minnesota Power worked with us to suggest that these programs could have more impact if they were constructed to run a bit longer and focus more on community building, thus providing an opportunity to leverage additional public and private resources to do even more work.

With Minnesota Power’s help, we convinced the federal agencies to take a chance on our model, now a full-scale wood stove change-out effort called Project Stove Swap. I’ve been spending quite a bit of my time on this for the last year and a half and the results have been promising, from the well-covered launch to the preliminary results. In just four months of running at scale, the project has already reduced more than 10 tons of particulate matter annually, the equivalent of taking over 180,000 cars off of the road every year.

THANK YOU

We wouldn’t have seen any of these results without Mike Cashin, Josh Goutermont, Nancy Norr, Randi Nyholm and others at Minnesota Power who were willing to listen to our ideas and stick with us in talking to agencies. Undoubtedly, this made their lives more complicated. But the reward for their commitment and their company’s support is a project that will produce economic, health and environmental benefits for years to come.


A note from Environmental Initiative:

In honor of Environmental Initiative’s 25th anniversary, 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.

Mikey Weitekamp

POSTED BY:

Senior Project Manager, Environmental Initiative

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