Top 10 Environmental Stories

An oil spill and a water treatment plant top the list

Car2Go rental cars became ubiquitous in 2010.
Car2Go rental cars became ubiquitous in 2010. (Photo by Jana Birchum)

1) BP'S BLOWOUT Although the Texas coast escaped relatively unscathed, the 2010 summer was blackened by an oil spill that surged through the rest of the Gulf of Mexico. A host of potential lessons – about lax regulation, corporate irresponsibility, global warming, resource conservation, and ecological fragility – might have been learned, but even a federal moratorium on offshore drilling was met with partisan outrage. More disasters, alas, await.

2) AND NOT A DROP TO DRINK The decades-long saga of Water Treatment Plant No. 4 dominated the year's enviro debates, with most environmental groups opposed to the project as unnecessary and wasteful and the City Council split 4-3 – enough for construction to persist, but insufficient for a public consensus. The funding was authorized, but the arguments continue, likely into the spring city campaign season.

3) TCEQ VS. THE WORLD The Texas Commission on Environmental Quality was in the political crosshairs as the Sunset Advisory Commission called for increased enforcement and the federal Environmental Protection Agency invalidated the agency's "flexible" air-quality permitting system and assumed its power to issue Clean Air Act permits because the state refused to enforce limits on carbon emissions. The politicized showdown, now tangled in partisan politics, will continue to darken the Texas skies.

4) AE'S NEWEST GENERATION In April, City Council marked Earth Day with the passage of Austin Energy's Resource, Generation, and Climate Protection Plan, which establishes goals for achieving energy savings, increasing wind and solar capacity, and reducing reliance on coal by 2020 – but its implementation is dependent upon completion of an "affordability matrix" requested by council but yet to materialize.

5) AUSTIN RE-ENERGIZED After a contentious national search, City Manager Marc Ott chose Californian Larry Weis to fill the shoes of outgoing AE General Manager Roger Duncan, who retired in February. Weis came on in September – just in time to begin work on that affordability matrix.

6) GUIDING THE ENVIRO AGENDA Lucia Athens became the city's first chief sustainability officer, taking charge of the city's slate of environmental initiatives – among them the stalled Austin Climate Protection Plan, an ambitious effort that sputtered out shortly after its launch under former Mayor Will Wynn.

7) FAYETTE DON'T SPRAY IT The Fayette Power Project came under fire as environmental groups alleged that its operator – the Lower Colorado River Authority – was underreporting the plant's emissions and had increased Fayette's coal-burning capacity without making required upgrades to rein in pollution.

8) AUSTIN CARSHARE DIES, CAR2GO THRIVES Transportation pioneers Austin CarShare moved off the road to make room for a fleet of tiny blue-and-white Smart cars operating under the Car2Go moniker; the cars soon became a familiar part of the central city streetscape and are destined to roll into expanded boundaries in 2011.

9) RECYCLING RESURGENCE Better late than never: The city's longstanding effort to expand its recycling prowess to include multifamily and commercial properties became a reality in 2010, with City Council formalizing an ordinance requiring thousands of additional properties to get on the single-stream bandwagon.

10) DISC-O INFERNO Citing environmental damage, the Parks and Recreation Department closed the longtime disc golf course at Pease Park and promised a new course at Roy G. Guerrero Metropolitan Park – despite objections from some neighbors and defenders of the heritage trees. Golfers threaten defiance at Pease, and the Guerrero project still faces the commission gantlet before heading to City Council. Expect more public bogeys before the 19th hole.

A note to readers: Bold and uncensored, The Austin Chronicle has been Austin’s independent news source for almost 40 years, expressing the community’s political and environmental concerns and supporting its active cultural scene. Now more than ever, we need your support to continue supplying Austin with independent, free press. If real news is important to you, please consider making a donation of $5, $10 or whatever you can afford, to help keep our journalism on stands.

Support the Chronicle  

READ MORE
More environment
Austin and Others Convince TCEQ to Change Graywater Reuse Rules
Austin and Others Convince TCEQ to Change Graywater Reuse Rules
New rulemaking creates system of credits for beneficial reuse, incentivizes sound environmental practices

Mike Clark-Madison, Feb. 21, 2020

Controversial Pipeline to Cross the Hill Country
Controversial Pipeline to Cross the Hill Country
The PHP presents potential risks to Edwards Aquifer, and there is little Austin can do about it

Michael King, Sept. 13, 2019

More Top 10
One for the Books
Jay Trachtenberg's Top Reads of 2015
A Brief History of Seven Killings leads a list of works exploring crime and politics abroad and at home

Jay Trachtenberg, Jan. 1, 2016

One for the Books
Joe O'Connell's Top Reads of 2015
Paradise Sky and The Best I Recall head a list of stellar Lone Star books

Joe O'Connell, Jan. 1, 2016

More by Nora Ankrum
Stressed Out? Let Your Freak-Out Flag Fly!
Stressed Out? Let Your Freak-Out Flag Fly!
Making stress into a friend instead of a foe

Oct. 2, 2020

Public Education Under Fire
Public Education Under Fire
New doc Starving the Beast uncovers ideological clash

March 11, 2016

More by Richard Whittaker
In Horrifying Times, the Haunting Season Is More Important Than Ever
In Horrifying Times, the Haunting Season Is More Important Than Ever
This is Halloween

Oct. 23, 2020

<i>The Kingcast</i> Finds the Personal Stories of Stephen King Fans
The Kingcast Finds the Personal Stories of Stephen King Fans
Eric Vespe and Scott Wampler make for the podcast's skeleton crew

Oct. 23, 2020

More by Amy Smith
Well-Behaved? Let's Assume Not.
Jacqueline Bouvier Kennedy Onassis: The Untold Story
Barbara Leaming's new biography makes the case that Jackie O suffered from PTSD

Nov. 28, 2014

Section 8 Reopens
Section 8 Reopens
Hurry up ... and wait!

Oct. 3, 2014

KEYWORDS FOR THIS STORY

environment, environmental, oil spill, Water Treatment Plant No. 4, Texas Commission on Environmental Quality, Austin Energy, Lucia Athens, recycling, Top 10

MORE IN THE ARCHIVES
NEWSLETTERS
One click gets you all the newsletters listed below

Breaking news, arts coverage, and daily events

Can't keep up with happenings around town? We can help.

Austin's queerest news and events

New recipes and food news delivered Mondays

All questions answered (satisfaction not guaranteed)

Information is power. Support the free press, so we can support Austin.   Support the Chronicle