Not Forgetting about the Contributions to Ambient Air Quality
Minnesota air quality experts are reviving the call to action of energy efficiency, substantiating the contributions that the industry needs to make to help Minnesota meet future federal air quality standards. Minnesota has a history of reaching EPA “attainment” (compliance). To date the EPA has utilized point-source pollution regulation (e.g. coal plants and large industrial facilities) to reduce ambient air pollution. With recent strengthening of some EPA standards, the question is: how far can restrictions on point-source polluters be taken? While the point-source crank can be tightened even further, those improvements are getting harder and harder and will result in larger costs to consumers. So the solution is looking for ways to control pollution away from the source. Enter: energy efficiency.
At a late April event, the Environmental Initiative and Minnesota Pollution Control Agency (MPCA) brought together business leaders, environmental groups, public health representatives, and state and local government experts to share policy recommendations produced by the Minnesota Clean Air Dialogue Work Group. The Work Group is a collection of individuals representing the areas above who were convened to look in-depth at the challenges Minnesota faces in meeting future federal ambient air quality standards.
At the event MPCA Assistant Commissioner David Thornton presented compelling economic, environmental, and human health data on why we need to start looking at air quality issues more collectively. Not only would there be indirect economic repercussions, but also considerable expenses that Minnesota businesses would incur if it does not meet EPA standards.
The gap between tightening federal standards and ambient air quality continues to narrow faster than Minnesota is able to keep ahead by working on point-source pollution alone. Of the major air pollutants that the EPA regulates, ozone and particulate matter have been the hardest to reduce, as they are created mostly through combustion. While the story of energy efficiency aiding in the reduction of harmful air pollutants is not a new one, according to the MPCA, building energy efficiency and conservation are some of the most cost-effective ways to reduce ozone formation. This applies proportionately to residential, commercial, and industrial energy consumption, whether from a central energy generation source or through the burning of fossil fuels and wood on-site.
Current regulatory, economic, and technological circumstances may be presenting new opportunities for energy efficiency experts to help track the extent to which energy efficiency activities are contributing to the mitigation of negative air quality impacts. To date these efforts have not been well measured or collated, an attribute of being an issue that falls across the jurisdictions of energy, air, and health.
In recent years, energy issues have been framed as economic and climate change issues, often times without highlighting the connection to air quality, but of course they are inextricably linked. While this call to action may not inherently change the nature of energy efficiency work, it may have the power to strengthen it, broaden it, and make ambient air quality concerns a more visible priority.
The event with the Environmental Initiative and the MPCA closed by having MPCA Commissioner Stine, the City Coordinator for Minneapolis, and the Vice President of FlintHills Resources -- the owner of the Rosemount based refinery -- identify tangible actions they are taking to help reduce non-point source air pollution. This includes Minneapolis’ new large commercial building energy disclosure and benchmarking program. Responding to this call to action, how can energy experts working in non-point source pollution markets help carry the baton in the next generation of clean air quality action and regulation?
Learning from Public Health about Behavior Change
Reflections on "The China Dream"
Sustainable Design in Minnesota
Minnesota Pollution Control Agency, EcoWatch,
by Marcus Metropolis