24 ways to reduce Minnesota's air pollution

Hazy day in St. Paul
St. Paul on a July day in 2011. A group of representatives from industry, environmental groups and government agencies is announcing 24 recommendations to help Minnesota avoid federal air pollution penalties.
Photo courtesy of Minnesota Pollution Control Agency

A group of representatives from industry, environmental groups and government agencies that worked for a year to come up with ways to reduce air pollution in Minnesota is announcing 24 recommendations to help the state avoid federal air pollution penalties.

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The work group led by the Environmental Initiative will present its recommendations today and discuss ways to implement them.

Mike Harley, executive director of the Environmental Initiative, said the challenge was finding ways to target smaller sources of pollution that can have large cumulative effects on air quality.

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"In the first two, three decades of doing air quality work, we hit the big sources, you know the big smokestacks that we can all spot as we drive around town," he said. "So now we're looking at a variety of much smaller sources. Think about small businesses and wood burning in neighborhoods and vehicles. And in order to make real progress going forward, we're going to have to make progress on many fronts from many smaller emissions sources, and that's fundamentally more challenging."

Harley said much is at stake for Minnesota. While the state currently meets federal standards for ozone and fine particle pollution, the U.S.

Environmental Protection Agency has been implementing stricter standards. If Minnesota exceeded the standards, studies from the Minnesota Chamber of Commerce and the University of Minnesota show it would cost Minnesota businesses up to $240 million in pollution control technology, Harley said.

The group recommends steps such as changing out wood-burning fireplaces for natural gas ones and retrofitting diesel vehicles to reduce emissions. Harley said wood burning is a concern for fine particle pollution.

"This is really about wood-burning fireplaces or wood stoves in homes, or even recreational fires, which have become more popular in backyards around the Twin Cities," he said. "This is a fairly significant issue and as it turns out, many other communities around the country have put programs in place to reduce wood smoke."

Below is a list of the group's recommendations:

• Educate and reach out to small and mid-sized businesses on how to reduce volatile organic compound emissions.
• Exchange landscaping equipment with high emissions for other lower emissions mod.
• Develop a model landscaping services contract aimed at reduced emissions • Set up state matching fund for "area source" reduction projects.
• Plant trees in cities to improve air quality and mitigate the "urban heat island".
• Expand Minnesota GreenCorps, a state program using AmeriCorps volunteers, to help local governments achieve energy conservation goals in public facilities.
• Establish grant program for alternative fuel infrastructure like natural gas fueling and electric charging stations.
• Establish incentives for fleets that use alternative fuels.
• Educate and reach out to trucking companies to reduce idling.
• Create incentives for retrofitting and rebuilding diesel engines to reduce emissions.
• Develop emissions reduction guidelines for public fleets.
• Develop a model contract for public works projects aimed at reduced emissions.
• Educate industry on air alerts and best management practices.
• Educate and reach out to users of stationary diesel generators.
• Retire high-emitting vehicles.
• Develop a bus and rail system for the seven-county metro area.
• Expand the employer-subsidized transit pass program.
• Issue rebates to repair high-emitting vehicles.
• Expand electric vehicle use and infrastructure to support it.
• Create a regional telecommuting program.
• Develop a model ordinance to reduce emissions impacts from hydronic heaters.
• Study options for coordinating brush management within the metro area.
• Exchange wood stove and fireplaces for gas ones.
• Educate and reach out to people about reducing wood smoke.