Our role in helping reduce air emissions

A car undergoing repairs in a local auto body shop receives a new base layer of paint. A throng of cars idle at a stoplight as drivers head home from work. Gas stoves in homes are turned on as people prepare dinner. These actions all contribute to air pollutants in a neighborhood, which can impact the health of residents and the environment. The World Health Organization reported in 2019 that air pollution is the greatest environmental risk to health.  

A significant part of Environmental Initiative’s work is convening programs to reduce man-made air pollutants. This is done in numerous ways, including helping small businesses secure funding to replace sources of emissions with cleaner alternatives and educating groups on air quality standards and sources of pollution.

Staff gave a presentation this month to a Minneapolis neighborhood association on air quality standards and ordinances, and on projects underway to help reduce air pollutants in communities. This “Air Quality 101” presentation is an effort to inform others about air regulations and resources available to help businesses and communities improve air quality. These presentations can be available to groups, organizations, and businesses upon request. 

Here is an overview of air quality standards policy and Environmental Initiative’s work in this area, with information pulled from the air quality presentation.  

Air quality standards and ordinances 

National ambient air quality standards – allowable levels of certain pollutants considered harmful to public health and the environment set by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency –are one way to help regulate and monitor emissions in a community. Designation regarding meeting these standards is done on a county scale and all Minnesota counties currently meet these standards. Two of these standards are likely to be reviewed in the near future.  

Air quality standards are an important way to protect public health, although they fall short in addressing the cumulative impacts of air pollutant sources, according to Bill Droessler, partnership development officer for Environmental Initiative.  

Sources like cars, trucks, small businesses, and construction equipment have a major impact on air quality, and some communities are exposed to more pollutants than others.  

“Zip code has way too big of an impact on the exposure you face every day,” Droessler said.  

Cities can’t set their own air quality standards but can play an important role in reducing pollutants by creating ordinances that regulate some sources of emissions, such as limiting allowable kinds of car paint or placing limits on vehicle idling. 

Our work 

As a nonprofit, Environmental Initiative can help connect small businesses with available funding sources and convene partnerships to reduce sources of air pollutants. 

Read on to learn about several of the programs we facilitate:  

Clean Air Minnesota 

A coalition of air quality leaders working voluntarily and proactively to reduce man-made sources of fine particulate matter and ground-level ozone.  

Partners work to reduce emissions from mobile sources, small businesses, and wood burning appliances. Teams develop projects to reduce emissions from the state’s smaller, widespread, and less regulated sources of air pollution.  

Clean Air Assistance Project 

The project connects small business owners to resources and funding to replace equipment and reduce emissions from their shops primarily in Minneapolis and Ramsey and Washington counties.  

Through the project, staff help auto body shops switch to water-borne car paint, which emits less pollution than solvent-based paint.  

The program also helps dry cleaners’ transition away from using Perchloroethylene (perc) as a solvent. Minnesota banned the use of perc as a dry-cleaning solvent starting in 2026 and offers grant funding to help dry cleaners replace perc with an alternative.  

Environmental Initiative staff connect businesses with these government grants and provide technical assistance and support through the application process.  

Project Clean Air Repair  

Older vehicles have outdated emission controls and exhaust equipment, which can greatly increase the pollution emitted by the vehicle.  

Through the project, Environmental Initiative teams up with car repair shops to reduce emissions from older passenger vehicles by reimbursing garages for fixing vehicle exhaust systems in cars of lower-income residents. Partner garages provide low- or no-cost repairs to emission control systems, taking that expense off car owners.  

These programs are conducted at the ground level and often involve connecting and meeting with small business owners to provide information and support throughout the entire process. Staff are actively working to connect with more businesses about available opportunities and financial resources. People with connections to small businesses and local dry cleaners and auto body shops are encouraged to reach out to Environmental Initiative staff to discuss what work could be done to improve air quality at these locations.  

“As a nonprofit we can help others do things. We can help secure funding sources and help connect with small businesses,” said Christina Vang-Dixon, a project manager for Environmental Initiative. “We build trust with funders, partners, and communities and listen to each of them to put these programs together. We make sure everyone is heard.” 

If you’re interested in a presentation from our team to your community group or organization, contact Christina Vang-Dixon to learn more.