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Environmental committee calls for diesel exhaust, silica dust air monitoring — now (07/31/2013)
By Chris Rogers

Yes, we are sure. That is how members of the Winona Citizens Environmental Quality Committee (CEQC) responded to calls to rethink their recommendation to monitor airborne silica dust and diesel fumes immediately. If air quality monitoring “isn’t happening right now; it should,” Assistant City Planner Carlos Espinosa summarized.

After the CEQC first sent that recommendation to the Planning Commission in early May, the commission sent it back for reconsideration in light of new legislation that will set state action on the issue into motion this fall.

Committee members said that state processes on the horizon do not change their initial recommendation: monitor silica dust now, hire a consultant to do it, and let the companies pay for it. Rather than change their list of recommendations, the CEQC has added to it. The committee added new language strengthening its call for air quality monitoring of diesel fumes. That item was not discussed when the Planning Commission handed back the CEQC’s recommendations. Committee member Holly Lenz said the lack of attention to that item was “the biggest problem I have with this return of our recommendations.”

The restated recommendation urges monitoring of traffic fumes as soon as possible, in order to establish a baseline against which to compare future changes. “You can’t compare if you don’t have a ‘before’ number,” said committee member John Nosek.

Also new is a request that the city contact the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency (MPCA) about starting two air quality programs: a Community Air Improvement Project (CAIP) and an Air Emissions Risk Analysis (AERA). CAIPs are community-driven efforts to brainstorm and implement ideas to reduce air pollution. AERAs are studies conducted by the MPCA. These programs have had success elsewhere, Lenz said. “There are precedents on how to deal with this.”

Monitoring of both silica dust and diesel fumes are needed “from a public health protection point of view,” Nosek explained.

A slow process

at city hall

Since the City Council called on the Planning Commission to consider an air quality monitoring requirement on March 4, the issue has moved slowly: first it went to the Planning Commission; then to its subset, the CEQC; then back to the commission; then back to the CEQC; and now back to the commission. At one point, the agenda item spent nearly two months in between committees. Other proposals have spent only two weeks on city hall desks in between meetings. In March, City Council Member Pam Eyden expressed concerns that slow-moving state agencies might not take action until the fall. Therefore, she stated, the city needs to do something in the meantime.

After the Planning Commission returned the CEQC’s recommendations, committee member Bea Hoffman expressed concern that the various delays might be intentional “foot dragging.”

After the CEQC made its initial recommendation, the state legislature set into motion rulemaking on various issues relative to frac sand, including air quality. For contentious issues, rulemaking has been known to take two years. The legislature also called for the establishment by October 1 of sample rules and of a board comprised of state agency staff to help local governments navigate health and environmental issues related to frac sand.

When the Planning Commission returned the recommendations in June, commissioners stated that the CEQC might want to change its recommendation in light of these new developments.

City staff has said that regulating issues like air quality should be the state’s role and has recommended seeking the state frac sand board’s advice in October.

Looking ahead

“That would really depress me if they just kick it back to us,” Lenz said of the upcoming Planning Commission meeting. “I hope we get some action.”

Next month the Planning Commission will decide whether to pass along the CEQC’s proposal to the City Council, recommend the proposal’s denial, alter it, or postpone a decision. When the issue of air quality monitoring first came to them, commissioners noted that they had just finished a year of vetting the frac sand issue and decided on a damp sand requirement to address the dust issue. The council’s consensus that perhaps more is needed may spur the commission to reconsider, but the issue of monitoring diesel fumes lacks the same support. Diesel fumes were part of the initial air quality monitoring proposal spearheaded by Eyden and council member Gerry Krage in March, but other council members opposed including diesel fumes, and the idea was scrapped. During that discussion, council member Paul Double said that if there is a potential health problem from diesel fumes, the city should look into it, but it would be unfair to pin the problem on the frac sand industry.

A few local governments in Minnesota have required air quality monitoring in response to the frac sand industry. Facilities owned by EOG Resources in Wisconsin have begun voluntary air monitoring. Some have pointed to preliminary results from EOG Resources’ studies as evidence that silica dust from frac sand mining does not exceed recognized standards. 


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