Environmental justice and air

The Minnesota Pollution Control Agency strives to ensure pollution does not have a disproportionate impact on any group of people. This principle, often referred to as environmental justice, also compels the agency to actively seek the involvement of lower-income residents, indigenous people, and people of color in decisions and actions that affect their communities.

Many studies have demonstrated that low income neighborhoods and communities of color have higher potential exposures to outdoor air pollutants and have more pollutant sources. The social, economic, and health inequities that these populations face can also make them more vulnerable to the effects of air pollution.

Environmental justice has many layers. In addition to experiencing higher levels of pollution, lower-income communities, communities of color, and indigenous communities often lack amenities, resources, and conditions that support healthy living. People’s health is influenced by social and economic opportunities, quality schooling, access to healthcare, safe neighborhoods, and more. Where these are lacking, poor air quality often contributes to health disparities.

To reduce these disproportionate impacts, the MPCA targets some of its work in areas of the state with higher numbers of low-income residents and people of color, and in tribal areas. This includes targeting grants and assistance, increased air quality monitoring, and more scrutiny of emission sources in these areas. The map found at the link below shows communities of concern for environmental justice around Minnesota.

Health disparities are the result of the cumulative impacts of pollution exposures and social stressors. There is growing interest in understanding these cumulative impacts that might make residents in lower income communities and communities of color more susceptible to the health effects of air pollution.

Visit MPCA and environmental justice for more information on our work.

Equality vs. equity

Equality shows a tall, medium, and small figure standing on boxes of equal height reaching for apples. The small and medium figures cannot reach the apples. Equity shows the same figures standing on boxes adjusted for height. All can reach the apples.

The concept of equality requires that everyone be provided the same things in order to succeed and live happy, healthy lives. Equity, in contrast, requires that we address the barriers to achieve the same outcomes and recognize that some groups or people are starting from a different place. Health equity means achieving the conditions in which all people have the opportunity to attain their highest possible level of health without limits imposed by inequitable policies, systems, and investments.

Addressing environmental injustice from an equity perspective requires the MPCA work to decrease disproportionate air pollution exposures. It also requires the MPCA to increase opportunities for all Minnesotans to meaningfully participate in environmental decisions.  It also means working with others to improve overall conditions that provide for a healthy life. Together with a variety of community stakeholders and state, local, and national government partners, the MPCA is working to achieve environmental justice and advance health equity.