Minnesota breathes easy as neighbors tussle with EPA

A battle is shaping up at states across the Rust Belt and elsewhere over air-pollution standards established in 2006 by the Environmental Protection Agency. Minnesota is on the sidelines in this tussle, and that’s good news.

The issue is the slightly more strict standards for “fine particulates” — one of the federal government’s six main criteria for air pollution. In the nearly two years since the standard was strengthened, the EPA has been working with states and Native American tribes to figure out which are in compliance and which are not.

Late last month, in the heat of all the political conventions, the EPA released its recommendations on the counties (that’s the level at which these things are measured) that are falling below the new standards. All Minnesota counties are in compliance.

Are we breathing cleaner air here?

“Based on the way the standards are calculated, yes,” said Cassie McMahon, air quality specialist at the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency.

Our geography and emission-reduction programs help
Our air is more pure because of many factors, including geography and voluntary pollution-reduction programs in the Twin Cities, she said.

For example, of geographic importance is frequent Northwest winds from Canada blowing in clean air. The conversion from coal to natural gas and other fuels in Xcel Energy’s Metropolitan Emissions Reduction Project is another example, as is Project Green Fleet, which retrofits diesel engines on school buses.

Minnesota still has days of poor air quality, “but they are not as frequent” as other places, McMahon said. The MPCA monitors hourly levels of air quality in the Twin Cities, Duluth, St. Cloud, Marshall, Ely, Detroit Lakes, Grand Portage, Brainerd and Rochester.

Our neighbors in Wisconsin, Iowa, Illinois, Michigan and Indiana have several counties on the list. You can find a map of “nonattainment counties” here. Some of them are whole counties, while others are only parts of the county.

Three years to correct pollution problem
Once a county has been found to be polluting, state and local governments have three years to come up with a plan to fix it. If they don’t clean it up, the loss of federal funds hangs over the heads of the states in question.

Some states will fight the EPA. The feds count 215 counties out of compliance, which is 68 more counties than the states are admitting to.

The fine particles in question are bad to breathe and have been associated with various health effects, including asthma and bronchitis. You can read more on particle pollution and human health here.

Comments (1)

  1. Submitted by Robert Moffitt on 09/08/2008 - 08:39 am.

    Nice article. Thanks!

    I would offer the American Lung Association’s Clean Air Choice program (click on my name) as another example of a program working to keep Minnesota’s air clean. We are pround of our ranking, but do not intend on slowing down our efforts to move the state toward cleaner fuels and vehicle technologies (vehicle emissions are the single largest source of air pollution in Minnesota).

    Bob Moffitt
    Communications Director
    American Lung Association of Minnesota

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