Every two years, the MPCA reports to the state Legislature on the status of toxic air contaminants and analyzes the MPCA’s strategies to reduce air pollutants. The agency uses this report as an opportunity to present the most pressing outdoor air quality issues facing Minnesota and to explore the opportunities available for emission reductions.
The air we breathe: 2017 report to the Legislature
Over the past 30 years, the federal Clean Air Act has resulted in drastic reductions in air pollution across the country, while our economy has continued to grow. And Minnesotans consistently have shown by their support of clean air initiatives that they value clean, healthy air. As a result, Minnesota’s air quality is better than all national standards and nearly all other health-related measures. However, scientists are learning that air pollution is harmful at even lower levels than was previously understood. As researchers continue to find health effects from smaller concentrations, federal air quality standards are getting tighter.
The MPCA will continue working to reduce air pollution from industrial and other large sources through our traditional regulatory methods, and by collaborating to find new ways to reduce emissions. Our future success will depend on all of us making choices that help limit emissions. Ensuring that all Minnesotans have clean air to breathe will mean we all need to take action to reduce our contributions to air pollution.
Overall air quality in Minnesota has improved during the past 20 years, but current levels of air pollution still contribute to health impacts.
The economic cost of health effects associated with exposure to current levels of air pollution in Minnesota may exceed $30 billion every year.
Comparison of growth areas and emissions in Minnesota
Minnesota's air quality is improving despite increases in population and economic activity.
How are we doing?
Clean air supports healthier people, healthier ecosystems, and a stronger economy. Minnesota is ranked among areas with the best air quality across the country and the world, and the state’s families, businesses, and visitors expect the air to be clean and clear.
During the last two decades, Minnesota has successfully reduced the level of unhealthy air pollutants across the state.
These air quality improvements have been driven by strong regulatory compliance, innovations in pollution control technology, voluntary emissions reductions programs, and actions citizens have taken to reduce our individual contributions to air pollution where we live, work, and play.
Where are improvements needed
We must continue to reduce air pollution in Minnesota.
- Advancing science shows that current levels of air pollution are impacting the health of Minnesotans.
- Evidence suggests that, compared to higher-income and white Minnesotans, people of color and lower-income Minnesotans may be exposed to higher levels of air pollution and are likely more vulnerable to health impacts related to air pollution.
- As federal standards are strengthened, Minnesota becomes less likely to meet the revised standards.
We must do more to reduce emissions from non-permitted sources.
- Point sources that are traditionally regulated, such as factories and power plants, are becoming a smaller part of Minnesota’s air quality concerns. These sources now contribute to just over 25 percent of all air pollution emissions in the state.
- The majority of the air pollutants of most concern today come from smaller, widespread sources that are not regulated in the way power plants and factories are. These nonpoint sources include cars, trucks, construction equipment, residential wood burning and residential garbage burning. These sources contribute nearly 75 percent of air pollution emissions in the state.
- Traditional regulatory tools, like air quality permits, are effective at reducing air pollution from factories and power plants, but are less effective at reducing pollution from nonpoint sources. Future air pollution reductions will require new innovations, partnerships, and strategies.
Overall air quality in Minnesota has improved over the past 20 years, but current levels of air pollution are still of concern.
Why is air quality important?
Minnesota has a good record of complying with federal air quality standards; nearly all areas of the state have met standards since 2002. It is important for the health of Minnesotans and the economy of Minnesota to continue to meet these standards.
Minnesota's air quality is improving despite increases in population and economic activity.
Exceeding a federal ambient air standard would require Minnesota to adopt strict and expensive new air quality regulations to reduce air pollution levels. If PM2.5 and ozone are reduced, we could expect to save more than $2 billion in healthcare costs.
- Although urban air quality is generally good, levels of fine particles and other pollutants are elevated in the Twin Cities metropolitan area and other Minnesota cities, compared to most of Greater Minnesota.
- Researchers continue to find serious health effects at ever-lower levels of air pollution.
- As more stringent standards are adopted, Minnesota becomes more likely to not meet the revised thresholds. Taking actions to ensure Minnesota meets the standards may be especially challenging because poor air quality days occur for complex reasons, including forces such as weather patterns, pollutant mixing, and pollution coming in from other states.
- Past work to improve air quality has focused on large individual sources of pollution. Continuing to meet new standards and protecting human health will require looking at sources that are individually small, but collectively important.
Challenges and action areas
Point sources are becoming a smaller part of the air quality problems in Minnesota
Non-point sources are becoming more important. Point sources that are traditionally regulated (factories, power plants) are becoming a smaller part of Minnesota's air concerns.
The majority of the air pollutants of most concern today come from smaller widespread sources that are not regulated in the way power plants and factories are. These non-point sources include cars, trucks, construction equipment, residential wood burning, and residential garbage burning. The current regulatory structure will not help much with pollution from these sources.
In addition to its ongoing efforts involving point sources, the MPCA is focusing on strategies to reduce emissions or human exposure from several nonpoint sources:
- Residential wood burning
- Residential garbage burning
- Stationary diesel generators
- Mobile sources, both on-road vehicles and off-road vehicles and equipment
- Mercury emissions sources
Targeted efforts will help fulfill the agency's strategic plan goals of improving ambient air and to address changing federal air regulations. Progress will require an increased need for partnerships and will be multi-pollutant.
Thanks to enforcement of the Clean Air Act by the state and federal governments as well as the actions of an increasingly engaged and informed citizenry, Minnesota’s air quality has consistently improved. However, in response to our increasing understanding of the serious health effects of air pollution at even low levels, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency plans to finalize new, more stringent standards for all six pollutants that have National Ambient Air Quality Standards.
The 2011 legislative report focuses on the new standards for particulate matter, carbon monoxide, ozone, sulfur dioxide, nitrogen dioxide and lead. It discusses the potential ramifications for Minnesota of the new standards and the work that is being done to decrease emissions of these pollutants. These new standards – along with new reporting and permitting regulations for greenhouse gases and the need to reduce the risks posed by air toxics such as diesel particulate, formaldehyde, acrolein, polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons, dioxins/furans and mercury – will present a unique challenge for MPCA in coming years.
The MPCA will need to find ways to reduce air emissions from sources not traditionally regulated in order to reduce health risks and meet federal standards. This will be achieved by leveraging community outreach, voluntary programs and partnerships, as well as through traditional regulatory methods.
This report fulfills MPCA’s requirement to report to the Minnesota Legislature every two years on the status of toxic air contaminants and to analyze the MPCA’s strategies to reduce air pollutants. (Minn. Stat. §§ 115D.15 and 116.925) The report provides an update on MPCA programs and strategies introduced in the 2009 Air Quality Legislative Report.
- Air Quality in Minnesota - 2009 Report to the Legislature
- Appendix A: Mercury emissions associated with electricity production and consumption in Minnesota, 2006-2007
- Appendix B: Air toxics emissions information, 2005
This 2009 legislative report explores the trends in emissions and concentrations of air pollutants in Minnesota and highlights concerns such as climate change, emissions of non-stationary sources and cumulative potential effects of air toxics. In addition, it provides an update on MPCA programs and strategies introduced in the MPCA’s 2007 Air Quality Legislative Report.
The Minnesota Pollution Control Agency (MPCA) is required to report to the Minnesota Legislature every two years on the status of toxic air contaminants and to analyze the MPCA’s strategies to reduce air pollutants (Minn. Stat. 115D.15 and 116.925). The MPCA uses this report as an opportunity to present the most pressing outdoor air quality issues facing Minnesota and to explore the opportunities available for emission reductions.
Minnesota and the MPCA have had success in decreasing the emissions and concentrations of many traditional air pollutants since the Clean Air Act was enacted in 1970. Emissions from large facilities have decreased dramatically, resulting in lower concentrations of many pollutants including fine particles, ozone and air toxics.
However, better understanding and management of the health and environmental effects of exposure to multiple pollutants and sources as well as newer challenges such as climate change is needed to further improve the impact of air pollution on Minnesotans’ quality of life.
This report to the 2007 Legislature focused on air quality and climate change issues relating to energy production and use in Minnesota. In addition, it provides an update on MPCA programs and strategies introduced in the MPCA’s 2005 Air Quality Legislative Report.
- Air Quality in Minnesota - Challenges and Opportunities
- Appendix A: Mercury Emissions Associated with Electricity Production and Consumption in Minnesota, 2004-2005
- Appendix B: Air Toxics Emissions Information
MPCA’s air program has largely focused on controlling emissions of traditional air pollutants from facilities. As a result, Minnesota has met federal air standards and maintained relatively low levels of toxic air pollutants. However, as our population, economic activity and energy use have increased, so have emissions of carbon dioxide. Carbon dioxide is the main greenhouse gas whose build-up leads to climate change.
Through conservation, efficiency and the use of cleaner, renewable energy sources, not only can emissions of carbon dioxide be reduced, but further reductions of pollutants such as fine particles, sulfur dioxide, nitrogen oxides and toxic air contaminants can be achieved.