Q & A with Louis Alemayehu: Northern Metals air quality issues reach beyond North Minneapolis


On September 5, a half dozen activists gathered in North Minneapolis at Kwanzaa Community Church to record statements about the Northern Metals application for changes to an air quality permit – video above. Louis Alemayehu, one of the group’s organizers, sat down with the Daily Planet to explain what the issues are.

You had a meeting this week to talk about the environmental impact of Northern Metals in North Minneapolis. What’s the issue?

Alemayehu: The immediate issue is Northern Metals, and it’s not just Northern Metals in isolation. If they’re allowed to operate this way through Minnesota, North Dakota, Wisconsin, the cumulative effect of this is throughout the region. It’s not just the North Side, it’s not just this particular company in north Minneapolis.

Last February when we were putting pressure on the MPCA to do an Environmental Impact Statement, the day we were to meet as a community to inform our community about the situation and what was about to happen unless we made our voices heard, the Governor issued a document to speed up the certification process.

Which struck us as “why was the timing like that? And why was it when we were looking at a business that was not willing to basically follow what the law says?

They’ve been operating without an Environmental Impact Statement for 20 years – the people who have it now bought it from another company that had a conditional use permit. Now that it’s time for renewal, we are saying, “Follow the law and do a real Environmental Impact Statement.”

The health issues on the North Side and Northeast Minneapolis – many of which are tied to environmental conditions – why should this community be burdened with a company that’s operating in this way, without concern for the health of the people who are affected.

And there’s another issue?

Alemayehu: We need a more effective process that protects citizens, and right now that process does not meet that need. 

The Minnesota Pollution Control Agency is willing to say that if a certain toxin will, as a rule, only kill three people – it’s okay to certify, essentially, the death of three people. The MPCA goes by certain numbers on what the government says are allowable levels of certain toxins going into the environment.

What the MPCA, what the feds don’t take into account is the accumulation of everybody meeting those standards. It’s not just one company only emitting 0.3 of whatever the toxin is. It’s happening in multiple places in the same area and in our region.

We feel that cumulative effect is something that needs to be taken into account, not just this business and thinking about it in isolation. Even if we thought about it in isolation, we would still ask how long they should be allowed to emit 0.3 of whatever the toxin is.

x x x x x x x

Those who met agreed to get 25 signatures on petitions to the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency by Monday, asking for a full Environmental Impact Statement. Alemayehu said he will be at Common Ground (2700 E 26th Street, Minneapolis) at a benefit event for several organizations on Saturday afternoon (September 8) from 1-5 p.m., with “food music, dance, Dean McGraw, Elise, and Fernando Silva” — he said people can find him there to sign his petition. 

The people testifying in the video are:

  • Roxanne O’Brien – neighborhood resident, mom, activist with Northside Community Reinvestment Coalition
  • Jeff Skrenes – Hawthorne Community Council
  • Lara Norkus-Crampton – registered nurse
  • Ariah Fine, community organizer
  • Louis Alemayehu – Environmental Justice Advocates of Minnesota

The Northeaster has covered the previous history of the Northern Metals case in detail. See Northern Metals shredder court case continues and Northern Metals shredder comment meeting finally takes place