Minnesotans who care about our state’s air quality should feel proud to live in a state that takes a smart, long-term approach to solving problems. Soon, more of the $47 million in Volkswagen air quality improvement funds will be divvied up for everything from electric vehicle chargers to heavy-duty off-road vehicles. Improving Minnesota’s air quality has been the focal point of my career for more than 15 years, and I know that – in the universe of air improvement projects – improving smaller, widespread sources of dirty air is often the fastest and most cost-effective way to improve public health. Minnesotans will enjoy results quickly through the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency’s strategies we’ve been afforded through the Volkswagen settlement.
I work at Environmental Initiative, a nonprofit that works with business, nonprofit and government leaders to collaboratively solve Minnesota’s environmental problems. One of our priority areas is clean air, and I’m proud to report that Minnesota’s air quality meets all federal standards. That is because we live in a state that values collaboration and solution-based thinking.
One of those solutions started in 2003 with the formation of Clean Air Minnesota. Convened by Environmental Initiative and the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency, it’s a group of leaders from businesses, nonprofits, community groups, and government agencies that care about clean air. The group has a record of improving Minnesota’s air quality by using the best available science, building consensus and recognizing the connections between improving our environment, human health and the economy.
While the immense impact of Clean Air Minnesota cannot be seen, it can certainly be felt.
Most of Minnesota’s air emissions no longer come from billowing smokestacks or factories. They come more from smaller, widespread sources that are not regulated the way large facilities are. That has been – and remains – the primary focus of Clean Air Minnesota. The group has driven down emission levels through voluntary, cost-effective, science-based methods. These efforts include cleaning up older, dirtier diesel engines and construction equipment, implementing small business projects to eliminate smog-producing volatile organic compound emissions and programs incentivizing people to swap-out old, uncertified wood burning devices for cleaner, safer, U.S. EPA certified equipment. We have leveraged more than $13 million in private investment to achieve the air quality equivalent of removing nearly two million cars from the road every year to improve the lives of millions of Minnesotans.
Clean Air Minnesota’s most recent accomplishment – which I’m very excited about – is the launch of Project CAR (Clean Air Repairs), which is helping to fix some of the most polluting vehicles on Minnesota roads. Did you know some studies report that 25% of passenger vehicles cause 90% of vehicle air pollution? Through Project CAR, our partner auto repair garages identify vehicles with outdated or broken emission controls or exhaust systems and encourage income-eligible drivers to take advantage of this program at low or no cost. Funded by Flint Hills Resources and the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency, this program is resulting in cleaner air in neighborhoods most affected by poor air quality. The cars that are being repaired through this program are the same cars that would be penalized if Minnesota had annual emissions inspections, but because of public-private-community based leadership initiatives like this, the time and expense of inspections continues to be unnecessary for all Minnesotans. And, while the vehicles being repaired are benefiting the owners, we’re all getting the environmental and health benefits.
Clean Air Minnesota has generated millions of dollars for pollution control that otherwise would never have occurred. Together in this unique partnership, we’ve leveraged federal funds that would have gone elsewhere with local investments to improve Minnesota. Most important, this partnership helps ensure that we both stay safely within federal standards and can improve air quality at a local level where it might most be needed. It allows for businesses to voluntarily make matching investments, and for more of our most vulnerable citizens to have a better chance at good health and longer lives with fewer asthma triggers and fewer missed school days.
Minnesotans expect to breathe clean air, and our state leaders take that seriously. Clean Air Minnesota, paired with using the most effective strategies from the Volkswagen settlement, is helping to improve our environment, energize our economy and improve health outcomes for our most vulnerable citizens, maintaining our position as a national leader in clean air right now and long into the future.
Bill Droessler is the senior managing director of clean air at Environmental Initiative. Clean Air Minnesota is co-chaired by the Minnesota Chamber of Commerce and the Minnesota Center for Environmental Advocacy.
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