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News release

March 7, 2023


Hannah Sabroski, 651-757-2178,

Newest statewide air quality report underscores need for funding and action

Fishing boat on a calm lake with a hazy tree-lined shore in the background.

Air We Breathe, a biennial report to the Legislature, outlines successes and challenges for Minnesota’s overall air quality.

The latest edition of Air We Breathe, a cornerstone report by the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency (MPCA) that provides high-level data on Minnesota’s overall air quality, examines potential health risks associated with specific sources of air pollution in communities across Minnesota for the first time. The report calls for increased funding and further action to reduce air pollution, especially in communities of color and where low-income residents live. The MPCA submitted the biennial report to the Minnesota Legislature in January.

In Minnesota, health risks from air pollution overwhelmingly come from transportation, permitted facilities, and wood burning. Two out of every three Minnesotans live in an area where these sources are the top contributors to air pollution risks. Wildfire smoke impacts have increased throughout Minnesota since 2015 — a trend that is expected to continue because of climate change.

“This new report paints a clearer picture of air quality throughout Minnesota and where communities are most impacted by multiple sources of air pollution,” said MPCA Commissioner Katrina Kessler. “We must continue to prioritize efforts to reduce pollution in communities where people of color and low-income residents live by working with impacted communities to build trust and by fostering transparent and inclusive permitting processes so that all Minnesotans can benefit from clean air.”

Environmental justice areas of concern, where residents are predominantly Black, Indigenous, people of color, or low-income, continue to experience a disproportionate burden of air pollution. The report finds areas meeting environmental justice criteria for both race and income often had higher average risk of air pollution than those that meet the criteria for race or income alone. While many parts of Minnesota have benefited from air pollution reductions, more work is required to improve air quality in areas where multiple sources of air pollution impact people at their homes, businesses, and schools.

Findings in the report also reflect MPCA accomplishments through grants, loans, and technical assistance. These include:

  • implementing Minnesota’s partial ban on trichloroethylene (TCE).
  • continuing work with Clean Air Minnesota, a public-private partnership, to reduce nitrogen oxides (NOx), particulate matter (PM), and volatile organic compound (VOC) emissions by over 600 tons.
  • awarding $14 million in Volkswagen Settlement funds to support transportation electrification and the replacement of high-emitting diesel equipment.
    • These grants reduced emissions by 1,900 tons of NOx, 190 tons of PM2.5, and 37,000 tons of greenhouse gases.
    • 29% of funds have been awarded to projects in areas of concern for environmental justice.
  • coordinating with tribal nations to swap wood stoves for newer, less-polluting models and storing wood to ensure it is clean and dry for burning.

Several proposals in Governor Walz and Lieutenant Governor Flanagan’s One Minnesota budget address air quality concerns. The first proposal, finding innovative solutions to protect our environment and support Minnesota mining, requests a $20 million appropriation from the General Fund in FY2024 to support mercury pollution reduction grants for taconite mining facilities and research through FY2027. As much as $17.6 million will provide grants to taconite facilities required to reduce pollutants in either air emissions or discharges to surface waters. The second proposal, improving air quality for the most vulnerable, requests $3.2 million in FY2024 and $3.2 million in FY2025 from the General Fund for grants to regulated facilities in environmental justice areas of concern. The grant dollars would go toward pollution control equipment or process improvements that reduce the facilities’ air emissions.

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