The wait is over: We're jumping into 2019 with the release of MPCA's biennial report on Minnesota's air quality, The Air We Breathe 2019. While Minnesota continues to enjoy good air quality overall, stark disparities remain when it comes to how different communities are exposed to and affected by air pollution.
Every two years, the MPCA prepares this report for the Legislature to provide an update on Minnesota's air quality, air issues of primary concern, and opportunities to make improvements. The current report highlights Minnesota's decreasing air emissions, steady economic growth, and innovations to watch for as MPCA works with partners across the state to improve air quality for all.
Air quality is good - but not everyone is benefitting
Minnesota continues to meet federal standards for the six pollutants regulated under the Clean Air Act: carbon monoxide, sulfur dioxide, nitrogen oxides, fine particles, ozone, and lead. Levels of these common pollutants in Minnesota have been falling for years.
However, the report also points out that people living in parts of both the urban areas of the Twin Cities and in Greater Minnesota are unfairly exposed to more air pollution. In addition, existing health inequities make some Minnesotans more susceptible to the harmful effects of air pollution. For example, people of color and indigenous and lower-income people often don’t have adequate access to things that support healthy living, such as healthcare and safe neighborhoods. When equitable access to these is limited, poor air quality often contributes to, and worsens, health disparities.
Where there's smoke...
Another trend highlighted in The Air We Breathe is how smoke from distant wildfires is affecting Minnesota’s air quality. Six of the nine air quality alerts the MPCA issued in the summer of 2018 were due to smoke from fires in the northwestern U.S. and Canada. This trend is likely to continue as climate change worsens heat and drought in North America.
The topic of greenhouse gas emissions and the role they play in climate change is a hot topic in air quality, dealt with in a separate report called Greenhouse Gas Emissions: 1990-2016. The report details progress in meeting the Next Generation Energy Act, a 2007 law setting goals for GHG reductions pegged to a 2005 baseline. One notable trend in the GHG report: The transportation sector has knocked out the electric power sector as the largest emitter of greenhouse gases, due in part to Minnesotans driving more miles and a growing preference for larger and less fuel-efficient vehicles like SUVs and crossovers.
Check out The Air We Breathe 2019 to learn more about Minnesota’s air quality, how we’re helping to reduce air pollution around the state, and everyday actions you can take to improve the air we all breathe.