Naked City

Clean Air Changes on Track

Friday, Nov. 15, is the last day to take the Clean Air Force of Central Texas online survey (at www.cleanairforce.org) to gather public input on key smog-reduction measures being considered for inclusion in the Austin-San Marcos Clean Air Action Plan. The CAAP is the fruit of the regional Early Action Compact signed in 2002 to help the metro area avoid "nonattainment" of Clean Air Act standards and the subsequent wrath of federally mandated state enforcement of the act, as is already being done in Houston and Dallas.

The list of recommended measures (also available at the CAF Web site) is similar to a draft list released in June, but includes more details on how much each strategy will cost, how big a difference it would make to air quality, and who would be responsible for making it happen (and how). Likely the most controversial among them is mandatory auto emissions testing in Travis, Hays, and Williamson counties; at a cost of $31.6 million a year, this is also the most expensive of the measures for which a price tag has already been determined.

Other measures include requiring employers to implement commute-reduction plans; an emissions permitting system for lawn and garden contractors; broader implementation of vapor recovery systems at gas stations; and reduction of emissions for Austin Energy, LCRA, and UT power plants. These are all among 16 measures that would require the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality to implement the relevant rules and regs. Another list of 39 measures -- ranging from closing drive-throughs on ozone-action days to expediting permitting for Smart Growth-type development projects to parking incentives for alternative-fuel vehicles -- could be adopted voluntarily by jurisdictions in the region. Seven cities and five counties signed the EAC, which calls for final approval of the measures in the Clean Air Action Plan by Jan. 31.

The EAC task force that's coordinating the efforts of those jurisdictions, and drawing up the list of control measures, reflects fairly well the political diversity of the metro area, signaling at least a tentative consensus between left and right on the need to do something to avoid nonattainment. Outside the task force, community activists on both sides have taken the proposed plan to task. The Travis Co. Libertarian Party, while not wholly opposed to the prospect of more government regulation to protect air quality, firmly objects to mandatory auto smog checks, which they argue punish drivers of clean cars (the vast majority, they say) for the transgressions of a few. On the other hand, the MoPac Boulevard Alliance -- a coalition of west side neighborhood and environmental groups -- has informed the EAC task force that the measures don't go far enough to shift Central Texas away from the road-and-SUV paradigm that's brought us close to nonattainment in the first place.

In addition to the survey, the CAF is holding public input meetings throughout the metro area this month. Upcoming meetings include: tonight (Thursday, Nov. 13) at 6pm, at the Travis Co. Westside Service Center, 4501 RR 620 N.; Saturday, Nov. 15, at 10am, at the Travis Co. Precinct 1 office, 9301 Johnny Morris Rd.; Monday, Nov. 17, at 6pm, at Baty Elementary, 2101 Faro in Southeast Austin; and Thursday, Nov. 20, at 6pm, at the Round Rock Public Library, 216 E. Main.

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KEYWORDS FOR THIS STORY

clean air action plan, clean air act, clean air force, early action compact, vehicle emissions testing, air quality, smog, ozone, texas commission on environmental quality, travis co. libertarian party, mopac boulevard alliance, nonattainment

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