The HERC trash incinerator produces pollutants like carbon dioxide, nitrogen oxide, and PM2.5—tiny particles of matter produced. A new city policy would prevent such facilities from expanding. Credit: Ben Hovland | Sahan Journal

Minneapolis will ban many types of new high-polluting industrial facilities from opening in the city and prohibit the expansion of existing ones, which mostly operate in neighborhoods with large communities of color.

The ban, which was unanimously passed Thursday by the Minneapolis City Council as part of a zoning code revision, will enforce a citywide prohibition on new scrap metal industries, chemical manufacturers, commercial laundries, combustion powered energy facilities, and foundries. 

Existing facilities such as the Hennepin Energy Recovery Center (HERC) located downtown and Smith Foundry on the south side are grandfathered in, but will be unable to expand operations that contribute to pollution. 

Thursday’s ordinance is part of the process of formally adopting changes to the city zoning code approved in the 2040 Comprehensive Plan, originally passed in 2018. 

Minneapolis nonprofit Community Members for Environmental Justice cheered the move as a step in the right direction, while group co-founder Roxxanne O’Brien said in a statement that it was long overdue. 

“Our community’s natural capital has historically been damaged and exploited by century-old racist land policies and processes,” O’Brien said. “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.” 

Neighborhoods that have heavy-polluting industries are home to disproportionate shares of residents of color, data show. That connection is tied directly to zoning and the historical practice of redlining that prevented minority families from buying homes in pristine areas in Minneapolis and other cities nationwide. The neighborhoods where those groups could buy homes were the same neighborhoods where governments allowed polluting industries to operate. 

That effect is still felt today. Minneapolis neighborhoods with higher levels of pollution and concentrated heavy industry are more diverse than those with cleaner air, according to state data. 

Policies approved Thursday largely ban new pollution sources considered to be high impact, but there are exceptions that would allow industries such as rock and concrete crushing, stone and clay production, and grain elevators or mills. 

The new ordinance bans existing facilities that are grandfathered in from expanding functions that increase their pollution. It imposes a mandatory quarter-mile distance between any new high-polluting facility, recycling processing facility, or waste transfer center and residential homes. The policy requires city health and planning departments to develop an environmental justice checklist to evaluate new moderate- and high-impact polluting uses. 

“I really felt passionate about diving into this environmental justice work,” said Council Member Jeremiah Ellison.  

City planning staff wanted to consider proposed expansions to grandfathered in facilities on a site by site basis, but an amendment authored by Ellison will require any expansion to decrease its environmental impact. Evan Mulholland, an attorney with the Minnesota Center for Environmental Advocacy, said the policy creates a more systematic way of dealing with polluting sources. 

State law prevents cities from shutting down facilities grandfathered into their current zoning codes as long as those facilities are in continuous use, but new protections are important, advocates say. 

“It’s not making things better—we’re really just focused on not making things worse,” Mulholland said. 

Andrew Hazzard is a reporter with Sahan Journal who focuses on climate change and environmental justice issues. After starting his career in daily newspapers in Mississippi and North Dakota, Andrew returned...