The Austin Chronicle

Top 10 Environmental Stories

By Nora Ankrum, Richard Whittaker, Amy Smith, and Michael King, January 7, 2011, News

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.

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