As the country continues to shift toward stricter ozone limits, Minneapolis is teaming up with its biggest polluters to come up with a solution to reduce smog and emissions while strengthening relationships with communities nearby.

Supported by the Minneapolis Pollution Control Agency (MPCA), the Improving Minneapolis Air pilot includes 12 companies such as a manufacturer of roof shingles, a hot-mix asphalt plant, two molten metal factories and a garbage incinerator near Target Field (home to the Minneapolis Twins baseball team). The 12 charter members are (or have the potential to be) some of the city’s biggest stationary emitters of air pollution, according to Jeff Smith, director of the MPCA’s pollution division.

Aside from addressing potential health concerns with high ozone levels, the project is aiming to monitor companies’ emissions and how they plan to reduce pollutants by keeping detailed notes on each facility. The MPCA also plans to measure how successful companies are at implementing state and federal regulations.

MPCA officials also understand the close quarters that smokestack businesses share with inner-city communities, which is why the program will also focus on building trust with nearby residents. The MPCA encourages companies to landscape their property and also practice more transparency with internal operations, according to the Star Tribune.

More honest assessments could help collect more precise data about local air quality while also supporting potential policy decisions. But Patraw contends the program is not a veiled attempt at more government regulation, and instead plans to provide technical assistance and help with brand-building.

For example, metal casters Smith Foundry Co. has created a partnership with the Minnesota Technical Assistance Program (MnTAP), which includes scientists and engineers from the University of Minnesota, due to membership in the program, according to Smith President Neil Ahlstrom. MnTAP, which is supported by MPCA, is researching how to lower the company’s emissions of volatile organic compounds through a process that converts plants to a set of degreasing agents.

“It’s kind of a different model instead of going after a company and pounding on them,” says Rick Patraw, manager of community and business assistance for the MPCA. “It’s helping to open up doors to have conversations.”

As the Environmental Protection Agency considers a proposal for tougher smog limits, more cities may look to Minneapolis’s method to start dialogue over finding a solution rather than starting a battle.

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