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Greenhouse gas emissions down — but still falling short of goals

Greta Gauthier, right, assistant commissioner with the MPCA, testifies Jan. 22 before the House energy division. She is joined by State Energy Office Manager Jessica Burdette and Frank Kohlasch, PCA air policy/quality manager. Photo by Andrew VonBank

Greenhouse gas emissions are down in Minnesota, but not down enough. And air quality is good, but not good enough if you suffer from respiratory or cardiac illnesses.

That’s what representatives of the Pollution Control Agency told the House Energy and Climate Finance and Policy Division on Tuesday.

Following up on last week’s two-part presentation on how climate change is affecting Minnesota, the hearing focused chiefly upon the greenhouse gas emissions that drive climate change. The gases measured include carbon dioxide, methane, nitrous oxide and fluorinated gases.

Minnesota’s Next Generation Energy Act of 2007 required that the state reduce these emissions by 15 percent by 2015 and 30 percent by 2025. The 2015 goal was not achieved and PCA Air Assessment Manager Frank Kohlasch said the current trajectory doesn’t look good for achieving the 2025 goal.

Greenhouse gas emissions in Minnesota are produced chiefly by electric utilities, transportation and agriculture, which each account for about a quarter of them. In the category of agriculture, forestry and land use, both crop and animal agriculture emissions are up since 2005, with forest regrowth reducing those effects somewhat.

Electric utilities are more of a success story. Among sources for electricity generation, coal produces more emissions than all other sources combined, and its emissions are down significantly since 2005.

That’s partially attributable to the move toward renewables. In 2007, coal generated 59 percent of Minnesota’s electricity, while renewables were responsible for 8 percent. In 2017, coal was down to 39 percent and renewables up to 25 percent of electricity production. Natural gas use has almost doubled (to 12 percent) and so have its emissions.

Another quarter of the greenhouse gas emissions come from transportation where emissions are higher than they were in 2005 for the chief source, light-duty trucks like SUVs, minivans and small pickups. Passenger cars, on the other hand, are producing about 25 percent fewer emissions over the same period, while aviation emissions are down about 20 percent.

 

State of the air

In a presentation about air quality, Kohlasch and Greta Gauthier, the PCA’s assistant commissioner of legislative and intergovernmental relations, said that the number of “bad air days” – when the air becomes unhealthy for sensitive groups -- is declining, while good days are mostly on the rise since 2008.

Although amounts of fine particles are down over 20 percent since 2003, Kohlasch and Gauthier said that the number of premature deaths in Minnesota attributable to fine particles is in the thousands each year. The chief source of fine particles is residential woodburning, but Kohlasch noted that the state’s eight air pollution alerts in 2018 were mostly due to smoke from wildfires and forest fires elsewhere.

As for overall air pollution emissions, the largest percentage (35 percent) comes from “neighborhood sources” like dry cleaning, home heating and backyard fires, while 24 percent is from cars and trucks, 21 percent from industrial facilities and 20 percent from off-road vehicles and equipment.


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