Press Release: Minneapolis City Council protects public health in new zoning land use changes, including ban on expansion of high-polluting facilities
CONTACT: Shalini Gupta, CMEJ, email@example.com
Sarah Horner, MCEA, firstname.lastname@example.org
Today, the City of Minneapolis unanimously voted to approve a full City-wide zoning revision for the first time in nearly 25 years. The revision includes a number of changes that will better protect overburdened communities from pollution, chief among them is an amendment that effectively stops any existing heavy industrial facility, like GAF in North Minneapolis and the Hennepin Energy Recovery Center (HERC) trash burner in the North Loop, from enlarging, expanding, or intensifying.
The zoning revision also includes a significantly increased setback for new high polluting sources, among several other new provisions. Community Members for Environmental Justice (CMEJ), Minnesota Center for Environmental Advocacy (MCEA), and community voices have led the push for these crucial changes throughout the zoning rewrite process.
By concentrating unwanted uses in certain parts of the city, zoning has historically been a central tool used to create and reinforce environmental racism resulting in low income and communities of color becoming dumping grounds for high polluting industries. Minneapolis rewriting this code is an important part of addressing this systemic racism embedded in the zoning code.
“Our community's natural capital has historically been damaged and exploited by century-old racist land policies and processes. We have waited far too long for this moment in history where government finally puts a halt on the expansion of sacrifice zones in poor, Indigenous and Black and Brown neighborhoods. We still celebrate this moment as a historical step in the right direction and thank every human being who made sure that we did the right thing today.” – Roxxanne O’Brien, co-founder of CMEJ
CMEJ and MCEA have been clear that industrial polluters should not be allowed to increase pollution and expand operations in Minneapolis, especially when they are near communities that have already been forced to bear the brunt of pollution-related public health impacts, when compared to the rest of the city and county. For example, according to the MPCA, inhaling high concentrations of particulate matter is associated with an increased risk of heart attacks, irregular heartbeat, acute and chronic bronchitis, asthma attacks, and other respiratory issues that can result in hospitalization and even premature death for people with pre-existing heart or lung conditions.
“The high pollution and lack of green space we see in parts of the city like North Minneapolis are directly correlated to how the City zoned itself over the course of a hundred years. Historically, zoning has been an institutional vehicle for racist and classist policymaking. Minneapolis elected officials have an obligation to address this problem, and today they took a major step forward.” – Evan Mulholland, MCEA Healthy Communities Program Director
The following actions were taken by the City in line with MCEA/CMEJ demands:
- Ban on enlarging, expanding, or intensifying high polluting industries that have been around for generations but no longer conform to the current zoning code. (“nonconforming uses”). This list also now includes existing waste to energy (HERC) and gas-fired electric generators (Xcel Riverside).
- Mandatory 1⁄4 mile distance between places people live and any new high-impact polluting uses.
- City Council legislative directive for the Health Department and CPED to develop an environmental justice checklist to use in evaluating future moderate and high-impact production and processing uses by 10/31/23.
- Strengthening the List of Uses classified as High Impacting (I.e. commercial laundry and metal plating)
The Minneapolis rezoning initiative began in 2022, as the City was required to align its zoning and other related ordinances with the Minneapolis 2040 Plan. After approximately a year of work, referred to by City staff as the Land Use Rezoning Study, the City’s Planning and Zoning staff released a first draft of the revised Zoning Ordinance, Zoning Map, and Table of Uses on January 12, 2023.
Knowing the generational impact of zoning, CMEJ and MCEA, joined by dozens of other local organizations and individuals, successfully demanded additional time to review and understand the changes that had been proposed. CMEJ and MCEA poured over the text and zoning maps, and with expert land use consultants, developed a series of demands and proposals aimed at limiting adverse health effects of new industrial facilities through targeted bans on particular toxic uses, setbacks and additional review. The joint CMEJ and MCEA comment also suggested ways to make the development review process more transparent and accessible to community members. And finally, CMEJ and MCEA offered a more sustainable frame of economic development that centers green industries/jobs without harmful toxic emissions to residents and workers.
A litany of research and lived experiences have revealed the consequential, and uneven, health impact of air pollution in communities like North Minneapolis and East Phillips.
CMEJ and MCEA submitted detailed comments and a revised Use Table, met with staff from CPED and the City Health Department, and built the understanding of the issue within the City Council to advocate for our demands. Thanks to the tireless work that builds community power and relationships, on May 16th, the City Council’s BIHZ Committee recommended passage of language designed to stop existing grandfathered high polluting facilities from increasing the intensity of their pollution. At the City Council meeting on May 26th, the Council voted unanimously to approve this change and take a step forward toward a more just zoning land use system in the city.
About CMEJ: CMEJ is a coalition of caring community members, mothers, and youth who are committed to addressing the environmental injustices occurring disproportionately in pollution-burdened neighborhoods in the City of Minneapolis. For more information, visit www.cmejustice.org
About MCEA: MCEA works to enact and enforce smart environmental laws in Minnesota. With offices in St. Paul and Duluth and a team that includes some of the state's foremost environmental law and policy professionals, MCEA educates about issues and supports communities in their fight to protect their environment. For more information, visit www.mncenter.org