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Bill proposes updates to state’s air quality laws, pollution standards

(CORRECTION: Premature deaths in the U.S. exceed 60,000; the original story said 6 milion)

REFILED April 4, 2022 — In 1985, the Pollution Control Agency started to include air toxic provisions on a case-by-case basis in issuing air quality permits. The law regarding air toxics hasn’t changed since.

Through HF3146, as amended, Rep. Fue Lee (DFL-Mpls) seeks to update the standards, along with other provisions to improve air quality.

It would require annual reporting of air toxic emissions, require an environment analysis of permit actions that affect environmental justice areas, establish a pilot program for community monitoring in environmental justice areas and require the Pollution Control Agency to conduct rulemaking to regulate air toxic emissions.

The bill was laid over Friday by the House Environment and Natural Resources Finance and Policy Committee for possible omnibus bill inclusion.

Lee has been contacted by many residents of his district and that of Rep. Sydney Jordan (DFL-Mpls) about how to help local communities develop toxic emission-reducing strategies. “I think this is a path forward for doing that,” Lee said.

A presentation from Dylan Millet and Jason Hill, professors at the University of Minnesota’s Department of Soil, Water and Climate and Department of Bioproducts and Biosystems Engineering, respectively, noted that air pollution is one of the leading causes of deaths. He said more than 60,000 premature deaths nationwide can be related to air pollution.

Assistant PCA Commissioner Craig McDonnell said 51% of Minnesotans live in areas where the air pollution risk is above health-risk guidelines. He said the number increases to 66% for those living in low-income areas, and 95% of minorities live in areas above health-risk guidelines.

“The data is clear,” McDonnell said. “While Minnesota is currently meeting federal clean air standards, air pollution continues to pose a threat to public health in Minnesota, with the impacts falling disproportionately on a community whose residents may have lower incomes and have higher proportions of people of color. Black, indigenous and people of color, and low-income residents are more likely to live near sources of air pollution from facilities as well as from transportation and neighborhood sources.”

The bill would require all facilities working with an air quality permit by the Pollution Control Agency to send a yearly report to the agency on their emissions.

A community air monitoring system grant would be included to measure air quality levels within an environmental justice area in Minneapolis. Also, $540,000 would be appropriated to the agency for the purchase of three air monitoring devices and a $500,000 appropriation would provide grants to nonprofit organizations.

The bill would also:

  • require the analysis of environmental and health impacts on a permit issuance, renewal or amendment that may increase pollution levels;
  • require a public hearing on a permit application required to conduct an environmental analysis;
  • require the Pollution Control Agency to determine boundaries of environmental justice areas; and
  • require the agency to start rulemaking to regulate air toxic emissions by Jan. 15, 2023.

Rep. Spencer Igo (R-Grand Rapids) said the bill could have a negative impact.

“I think we would have a lot of responsible industries and businesses here in the state that would now be forced out because of these new regulations that will be brought in,” he said. “My concern is, when we’re talking about environmental justice and equity, if we’re going to force out these jobs and these industries because of aggressive regulation and permitting processes that make doing business in this state impossible, what we’re going to do is we’re going to force these jobs overseas.”

The bill’s companion, SF3211, is sponsored by Sen. Bobby Joe Champion (DFL-Mpls) and awaits action by the Senate Environment and Natural Resources Policy and Legacy Finance Committee.

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