Responding to federal actions

The Clean Air Act (CAA) establishes a collaborative relationship between the federal EPA and state environmental agencies like the MPCA. For most parts of the CAA, the EPA sets standards and states implement those standards. States and others have the opportunity to provide input into the development of EPA’s rules and standards. This process is part of what is called “cooperative federalism.”

Since 2016, the EPA has been rolling back and reducing the protectiveness of numerous regulations. The MPCA analyzes these proposed rule changes to understand how they might impact air quality in Minnesota, the health of Minnesotans, and the regulatory requirements on Minnesota’s businesses and governments. In many recent cases, we have had serious concerns about the impact of these actions. In collaboration with the Minnesota Department of Transportation (MnDOT), Minnesota Department of Commerce, and Minnesota Department of Health (MDH), the MPCA has been providing input on these rule changes and, when warranted, has worked with the Attorney General’s office to support legal action to protect Minnesota.

National Ambient Air Quality Standards

EPA has been considering changes to how it develops and implements the National Ambient Air Quality Standards (NAAQS), which set standards for common air pollutants that all states must achieve. These standards are established to protect health, the environment, and property.

The NAAQS are the cornerstone of the Clean Air Act. MPCA agrees that states have the primary responsibility under the CAA to achieve the standards and must be given flexibility to do so in a way that makes sense for their communities. However, MPCA opposes actions that delay implementation, create inconsistency in enforcement, or otherwise weaken the development and implementation of these health-based standards.

EPA is responsible for reviewing the NAAQS on a recurring basis. The MPCA tracks those reviews, which happen over the course of several years. If necessary, the MPCA will provide comments to EPA in support of, or with concerns about, the EPA’s final decision to retain, change, or create a standard.

MPCA responses

Regulatory science

EPA is considering changing what types of scientific studies it will rely on to develop regulations. The stated intent of this rule is to be more transparent and only rely on studies based on data that is publicly available. Learn more about EPA’s proposals on their website.

The MPCA and MDH strongly believe that regulations should be developed using the best science available and that data and scientific studies should be accessible to the public. However, the agencies are concerned about the direction of this rulemaking process and fear that this proposal would undermine the use of peer-reviewed scientific research. The proposal would prevent EPA from using epidemiological studies that rely on private health data, which are critical in developing health-based environmental regulations. MPCA and MDH oppose this proposal.

The original rule was published in 2018. In 2020, EPA published a supplemental notice to address some concerns from the 2018 rule proposal. MPCA and MDH addressed additional concerns presented by the supplement, and continue to oppose the rule. 

MPCA and MDH responses

NOx standards for heavy-duty vehicles

EPA sets emissions standards for nitrogen oxides (NOx) for heavy-duty vehicles. The existing standards were set in 2001, and in 2020 the EPA is considering adopting a more stringent standard. Information on these standards and EPA’s proposal can be found on their website.

To meet environmental and human health goals, MPCA supports stringent NOx standards for heavy-duty vehicles. NOx emissions impact human health and contribute to disparities in air pollution exposure. The MPCA believes that the most stringent NOx standards should be adopted because they are both technologically and economically achievable.

MPCA response

Greenhouse gas emissions standards for power plants

In 2015, EPA finalized rules, collectively called the Clean Power Plan (CPP), that were designed to reduce GHG emissions from existing fossil fuel-fired power plants. In 2019, EPA finalized the Affordable Clean Energy (ACE) rule to weaken these standards. Information on EPA’s rule and associated actions can be found on their website.

MPCA and Commerce viewed the CPP as an important part of achieving Minnesota’s clean energy future and an opportunity to work with other states to get there together. MPCA and Commerce strongly supported the CPP and oppose actions to weaken it. The two agencies provided comments to EPA throughout the regulatory process.

MPCA and Commerce responses

Greenhouse gas and fuel efficiency standards for passenger vehicles

EPA and the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration set fuel efficiency and GHG emissions standards for passenger vehicles. In 2012. they set standards through model year 2025 that had broad stakeholder support. In 2020, the agencies backed away from those standards and set new, less-stringent ones for model years 2021-2026. Information on these standards can be found on EPA’s website.

The fuel efficiency and GHG standards are critical for protecting the health of communities exposed to vehicle pollution, achieving Minnesota’s Next Generation Energy Act GHG emission reduction goals, and saving Minnesota consumers money at the gas pump. The MPCA and Minnesota Department of Transportation strongly oppose weakening these federal standards. The two agencies provided comments to EPA throughout the regulatory process.

MPCA and MnDOT responses

Cost-benefit analyses

EPA is considering changing the methods it uses to conduct cost-benefit analyses as part of the development of regulations. The stated intent of the rule is to use a one-size-fits-all cost-benefit analysis across all federal environmental programs. Learn more about EPA’s proposals on their website.

Cost-benefit analyses are an important part of many regulatory processes. The MPCA supports rigorous analyses that consider all the costs and benefits of environmental regulation, including the costs and benefits to society as a whole. The MPCA has concerns about the direction of the proposal.

MPCA response

Once in always in

EPA withdrew its “once in always in” policy which required that facilities that at one point emitted large amounts of air pollution were permanently subject to complex permits and significant requirements for record keeping, monitoring, and control. These requirements could not be lifted, even if a facility reduced its emissions below the levels that would normally demand these conditions.

The MPCA supported this decision because in our experience the “once in always in” policy limited incentives for facilities to invest in pollution-reduction technologies and processes.

MPCA response

Regulatory reform

EPA is considering many changes to how it conducts rulemaking and sets standards. They initiated this effort with a broad request for information from stakeholders.

MPCA supports ongoing evaluation of the effectiveness of regulatory programs. However, we have concerns about the methods and priorities EPA is deploying in its review. EPA has since released specific proposals. See sections below for more information.

MPCA response