As you may have heard, Clean Air Minnesota is now 15 years old. Can you believe it? When I was 15, I had just met my soon-to-be girlfriend and now wife (it’s the same person, by the way). Today, I’m still married and still working on behalf of Clean Air Minnesota.
It’s all about the relationships. Nearly all of the primary partners from those early days are still engaged. Heck, for some of the organizations, it is even the same people.
BACK WHEN “PUBLIC-PRIVATE PARTNERSHIP” WASN’T A BUZZWORD
For all kinds of different reasons, we have all been damned determined to make this partnership work. When we started, this level of public-private partnership (which seems like a big buzzword now) was rare. Working on air issues in a region that didn’t violate any federal air standards and didn’t legally have to do anything was relatively rare. There were no paths to follow, there was no guidebook. Many people didn’t think it could, would, or should work. Many people and some organizations didn’t think that a voluntary, proactive response was the appropriate approach to these issues. Those folks mostly believed it was better to allow Minnesota to violate federal standards and then work through regulations. Well, we still don’t violate the federal standards. Following that reasoning, most of our accomplishments over the last 15 years would not have occurred. That approach isn’t aspirational and just doesn’t seem like the best that we can do.
Much of our success also stems from a close working relationship with the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency, and that’s been true through 5 Commissioners and 3 Governors. The Agency is comfortable being around the table with everyone else, rather than having to be at the head of the table. Almost all of those early partners were relinquishing some kind of power, providing funding, and giving of time and expertise. In those original conversations, the Minnesota Chamber of Commerce and the Minnesota Center for Environmental Advocacy were also committing to this shared partnership. We are all better off for their commitments.
15 YEARS OF REMOVING HARMFUL EMISSIONS
Now for some hard numbers. Regardless of one’s philosophical view, this approach and our collective commitment has been very successful. One statistic stands out – our projects have removed the pollution equivalent of more than 1.3 million vehicles annually.
We have become pretty adept at seizing opportunities and making partnerships. That’s true whether it’s with diesel fleets or small businesses or ensuring that elderly Tribal members can remain in their home by getting clean heating equipment by leveraging funding from the EPA, two foundations, and private companies. We’re about to partner to replace a locomotive engine that was built in 1944 – but is so solid that it could be rebuilt for many more years! Those engines last forever, but they can be cleaned up with willing partners and funders.
But if not for Clean Air Minnesota’s collaborative approach, none of this would have happened. This work has also provided enormous economic value to our projects’ local participants and to the manufacturers, vendors, and installers that we’ve engaged across the state. That’s another key message of our work – environmental and economic benefits are not mutually exclusive things.