Based on the input from the technical check-ins and the larger community informational meeting, the process was updated and the community outreach plan was adjusted.
3.1. Public Participation Plan for the Permitting Process
The MPCA developed a new approach for community outreach in response to questions and comments from community members, including a webpage, email notifications through GovDelivery®, permit application information sessions and public informational meetings.
The intent of the webpage is to support communication to interested stakeholders through posted documents and updates. The CL&E webpage includes the process and reference documents, a fact sheet (in Spanish, Somali and English), active permit applications, updates on active permit reviews and the opportunity to sign-up for GovDelivery® notifications. The GovDelivery® notifications provide updates of significant modifications made to the process or community outreach, updates on active permitting projects in the area, and dates and locations of informational sessions and/or public meetings.
Information sessions, similar to “office hours,” were incorporated into the public participation plan and are held when work on a permit application is started by the agency. In these sessions, the permit application materials and MPCA staff are available so that community members can review the permit application materials before a draft permit is developed. This is an opportunity for the community to ask questions about permitting and risk assessment in general as well as ask questions about the meanings of particular items in permit applications. The goal of these sessions is to provide community members with access to the permit application, and MPCA staff responsible for the review, to support community input during the application review process prior to the drafting of a proposed permit.
Finally, a public informational meeting is a mandatory part of the permitting process in the Statute Area. Generally, public informational meetings are only held if requested during the public comment period or if there is known controversy about a particular draft permit. The purpose of the public informational meeting is to present information concerning the draft permit, answer community questions about the draft permit, provide instructions for submitting comments on the draft permit and receive comments on the permit for those ready to do so.
3.2. Case Study of the First Permit Application
A permit application was received by the MPCA in early 2010, for a facility that includes a spray coating booth, natural gas combustion heating, maintenance activities, and an emergency generator. Under existing Minnesota rules, this type of facility would be eligible for a registration permit, which requires less agency review and is available to facilities with low actual emissions. However, because the facility was located in the Statute Area, the registration permit option was not available. Following the Process Document, the applicant conducted criteria pollutant modeling and air toxics modeling according to MPCA guidance. Screening levels were exceeded for the PM2.5 24 hour SIL, the hourly NO2 SIL and the acute NO2 hazard quotient. The modeled one-hour average NO2 concentration exceeded the SIL at the furthest distance from the facility of all of the screening metrics. This distance defined the Study Area and extended to a radius of approximately 1.2 km from the facility fenceline.
The human health endpoint associated with short-term NO2 exposure is acute respiratory events, and therefore the following data were included, analyzed, and discussed in the CL&E report:
acute respiratory air toxics modeling results,
acute estimates for ambient air monitoring,
asthma related hospitalizations,
asthma related emergency room visits,
results from the Asthma Capitals Study [27
smoking status rates [9
percent population uninsured [9
percent of the population under the statewide average income [28
the percent of the population that is non-white [28
The human health endpoints identified for 24-hour PM2.5 exposure are acute respiratory events (described above) as well as cardiovascular health effects. The environmental health data used for an indicator of cardiovascular events were hospitalizations coded for ischemic heart disease.
The environmental health data for the Study Area were compared to data for the City of Minneapolis, the Twin Cities metropolitan area, Hennepin County and the State of Minnesota using the more refined spatial surrogate that the data would allow. Hospitalizations for asthma and cardiovascular events also included comparisons to Healthy People Objectives 2020 [29
]. All modeled air concentrations were below facility-specific guidelines and state and federal standards. Multiple small natural gas-fired space heaters were the primary contributors to the modeled hourly NO2
concentrations. The spray booth and natural gas combustion were the primary contributors to PM2.5
emissions. These comparisons showing the relatively small impact of the proposed facility did not definitively answer the community’s main questions, which went beyond “Is this facility safe?” to the more difficult question, “Will this facility add to the preexisting environmental health issues that we already consider to be unacceptable?”. The facility-specific data and the existing community-based data were summarized, as demonstrated more generally, in Table 2
Three information sessions were held in a local library during the technical review of the permit application, including a weekday evening, a Saturday morning, and a weekday noon. These information sessions were not well attended; however, those community members who did attend were able to speak directly with MPCA technical staff and the project proposers to clarify many details of facility operation and regulatory process. The project proposers also hosted a tour of the facility after one of the sessions. Community members at these sessions helped identify the need for “flag pole receptors,” or modeling receptors at locations of elevations higher than three stories due to the presence of multistory residential buildings in the Study Area.
Several factors were balanced during information sessions which occurred during the time when MPCA staff were conducting their technical review of the project. First, permit application materials were lengthy (hundreds of pages) and staff had not completed their review. Second, even for community members with technical backgrounds, some rule-based language is very specific in nature and can be difficult to decipher. Third, community members have “day jobs,” and they need to understand the information quickly in order to be able to participate and comment meaningfully. Fourth, community members expressed a mistrust of agency summaries of the permit application materials (complicated by the fact that the regulatory reviews were not complete). The difficult balance was between providing hundred page documents to the public in the very early stages, and summarizing information in a manner that would be both accepted and understood by community members. The informality of the setting and the availability of MPCA technical staff at the information sessions allowed the community to ask questions, obtain answers and make comments on the permit application. Thus, the sessions supported communication of technical information.
As regulatory review progressed, the MPCA made a determination that facility emissions under the proposed permit limits were unlikely to increase existing respiratory or cardiovascular health effects in susceptible populations. This determination was based on the risk assessment and CL&E analysis taking account of proposed facility operations, allowable air pollutant emissions, modeled concentrations, and all of the environmental health data that was reviewed during the process. The following questions were posed as a very basic risk management decision-making framework to determine whether to continue with the permit process:
Is the analysis adequate? (was all available data included, was this a reasonable “hard look” at potential facility impacts to existing cardiovascular and respiratory events, etc.)
Considering all of the information presented, would you recommend moving forward with a draft permit?
Are the limits incorporated into this analysis adequate to limit potential facility impacts to the community?
Are there any further voluntary efforts that the agency would suggest?
As part of the cumulative levels and effects analysis, the permit applicant proposed significant permit limits in order to reduce the size of the Study Area and the extent of the analysis. The resulting draft permit contained annual and daily coating usage limits in the spray booth, limits on contents of coatings used in the spray booth, annual limits on natural gas combustion and limits on VOCs and HAPs used in maintenance activities. During the permit application review, the facility applied for and received funding to incorporate geothermal heating which further reduces short-term emissions of respiratory irritants. This was not a requirement in the draft permit.
The required public comment period was extended from 30 to 45 days to allow greater community review of the draft permit. During the public comment period, a public informational meeting was held. A 20-minute presentation addressed the permit review process, the CL&E analysis, the requirements in the draft permit and the formal public comment process and was followed by a question and answer period. Questions were asked about existing versus future operation of the facility, odors, consideration of susceptible populations, why modeling is sometimes used instead of monitoring, why the facility was placed at this location, how compliance with permit limits is determined, the extent of current and future operational plans, and efforts to reduce energy consumption. Several commentors raised concerns about the environmental equity implications of siting the facility in a highly populated urban area, the desire for the site to be used for something other than a pollutant-emitting industry, that the meeting was not sufficiently publicized in alternative press outlets, and that the location of the public meeting was a deterrent for attendance because it was over a mile from the facility and outside of the Statute Area.
A second meeting was held to provide an additional opportunity for community review and comment. The majority of questions and comments at the second meeting were directed towards ensuring that the community has a voice in the process, the reluctance about having the facility in the neighborhood regardless of the CL&E results, the desire for community meetings with decision makers, and a disbelief in the information presented.
Formal written comments received during the comment period concerned the siting of the facility in a disadvantaged minority urban community rather than a suburb, requests for denial of the permit, a suggestion to assume synergy rather than additivity for pollutant interactions, requests that the MPCA Citizen’s Board make the permit decision, a desire to ensure that the existing condition was adequately considered, requests for additional time for community review, and requests for more community meetings.
Due in part to public comments, the proposed permit was presented to the MPCA Citizens’ Board for the final decision on issuance. The MPCA Citizens’ Board (Board) is appointed by the Minnesota governor, confirmed by the state senate, and chaired by the MPCA commissioner. Members of the public may submit additional written comments on the permit materials to the Board, may attend the meeting and may present at the meeting. Information on the general CL&E methodology was presented first, followed by the results of the facility-specific CL&E analysis and the proposed permit. The MPCA Citizens’ Board posed questions concerning the reasons for not pursing CL&E analyses at other locations and the resources needed to complete them. One board member noted that these analyses require a great deal of staff time to complete, but will get more efficient with practice. No community members attended the meeting, nor were additional requests or comments sent to the MPCA Citizen’s Board. In conclusion, the MPCA Citizen’s Board voted to authorize issuance of the permit.