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Minnesota could see tougher air pollution limits under EPA proposal

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Stricter air pollution rules proposed by the federal government Wednesday could have a big impact on Minnesota.

The Environmental Protection Agency wants to lower the allowable amount of smog-producing ozone in the air from the current level of 75 parts per billion to between 65 and 70 parts per billion.

Right now, Minnesota is in compliance with the current limit. But depending on how low the new levels are set, residents could see tighter emission limits on vehicles and businesses could have to meet stricter air pollution standards, Bloomberg News reports.

Ozone is formed when vehicle exhaust and other emissions mix with heat and sunlight, and the resulting smog increases the risk of asthma and other lung diseases, as well as heart disease.

“For Minnesota it is critically important,’’ said Frank Kohlasch, manager of the Air Assessment Section at the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency, according to Bloomberg.

Ozone levels in Minnesota are usually highest in the Twin Cities metro area and occur in the summer, Kohlasch said; they're usually right around 65 ppb. So if the EPA sets the new limit at or near that level, the state would have to take actions to remain in compliance, according to Bloomberg.

That could include things like requiring tailpipe emission checks on cars and trucks and tightening air emissions standards for companies seeking new permits.

The EPA's announcement said ozone pollution at current levels can "pose serious threats to public health, harm the respiratory system, cause or aggravate asthma and other lung diseases, and is linked to premature death from respiratory and cardiovascular causes."

The stricter rules would be expensive for businesses to meet. The agency estimates it would cost between $4.7 billion and $16.6 billion for businesses like factories, power plants and refineries depending on which standard is selected. But it argues the tradeoff is worth it.

"Every dollar we invest to meet [the standards] will return up to three dollars in health benefits. These large health benefits will be gained from avoiding asthma attacks, heart attacks, missed school days and premature deaths," said the EPA.

It will be several more months before the agency makes a final decision, and some experts say it seems likely the state will need to take some action once the new rules are in place, according to MPR News.

"Minnesota has been right on the edge of compliance and non-compliance for a decade and a half," said Mike Harley, director of Environmental Initiative, a group promoting voluntary efforts to reduce the state's ozone-causing pollutants. "So under any circumstances, Minnesota is going to have to do things to keep our air clean and reduce pollution," he told MPR.

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