The Austin Chronicle

Top 10 Environmental Stories

By Amy Smith, January 4, 2013, News

1) What Climate Change? Extreme weather patterns gathered momentum across the country, including Texas: home of a decreasing water supply and a shrinking number of livestock, plants, birds, and other species. Against this backdrop, Texas won a legal battle with the EPA over the state's rather lax air quality control rules affecting the industrial plants that contribute to global warming.

2) WTP4 Rising Austin's costliest and most contentious public works project in recent history added another chapter to its torrid timeline – this one including a lot of hand-wringing over construction cost overruns, staff memory lapses on who knew what when, and City Council's expressed shock over the facility's bloated price tag.

3) 20 Years of SOS In August, local enviros and politicos celebrated the 20th anniversary of voters' overwhelming approval of an ordinance limiting development over the Barton Springs segment of the Edwards Aqui­fer. The year also marked the 20th birthday of the SOS Alliance, the coalition that led that 1992 campaign.

4) Sierra Club Shuffle Former regional EPA Director Al Armendariz, who resigned from his federal post after howls of protests over his stance on polluters (he's agin 'em), joined the Lone Star Chapter of the Sierra Club to head up its statewide Beyond Coal Campaign. Meanwhile, Sierra Club stalwart Ken Kramer retired as director of the state group after 30 years.

5) Block That Sewage City Council rejected a proposed settlement that may have cleared a path for development group Jeremiah Venture LP to obtain a state permit to irrigate treated sewage in the recharge zone of the Barton Springs Edwards Aquifer. The city and Jeremiah are expected to square off in a contested case hearing in 2013, barring another postponement.

6) Bag the Bags Council passed a ban on single-use plastic and paper bags, with the new ordinance set to take effect in March. Recycled paper bags can be used, as well as other bags durable enough for 100 uses.

7) Fracking Infractions University of Texas professor Charles Groat, whose widely publicized research report found no evidence of connections between ground­water contamination and hydraulic fracturing, was forced into retirement after failing to disclose that he holds stock and sits on the board of a Houston-based fracking company.

8) Barton Springs Pool Redo A proposed makeover of the iconic pool's south entrance deeply divided a community of devoted swimmers, with one camp pushing for an upgrade and another wanting to keep its no-frills look. Council will likely be equally divided when it considers the issue in the new year.

9) Fayette's Foggy Fate Austin Energy's proposal to sell its share of the coal-burning Fayette Power Project and replace it with power from natural gas plants didn't win over anti-coal activists, who argue such a move would only increase overall carbon dioxide emissions. How the Council will honor its commitment to eliminate coal from the utility's portfolio remains uncertain.

10) Margret Hofmann, R.I.P. Austin lost one of its greatest treasures with the passing of the former City Council member chiefly responsible for the 1983 passage of Austin's first tree ordinance, which was designed to ensure the protection of many of the city's oldest leafy inhabitants. The fight for tree preservation continues as redevelopment plans for the former Green Water Treatment Plant site call for the removal of seven protected trees.

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