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Commissioners reduce funding for air quality group

Thursday, October 4, 2012 by Michael Kanin

Two members of the Travis County Commissioners Court raised questions Tuesday about the efficacy of the Central Texas Clean Air Force as they discussed CAF funding.


The queries, from Commissioners Sarah Eckhardt and Ron Davis, came as the nonprofit group, which looks after air quality issues in the region, sought funding through the county’s fiscal year 2013 budget process. Though commissioners eventually voted to continue Travis County’s contribution to the group, they cut it in half. The Clean Air Force will receive $10,000 this year as opposed to the $20,000 it had previously gotten. Commissioner Margaret Gómez was absent.


Eckhardt wondered about the general effectiveness of the program. “We often see, particularly in this job – we have a lot of well-intended partnerships, well-intended programs that we fund and then the results are not as robust, the scope of the effectiveness is not as broad, or – for whatever reason – the partners who are involved, their commitment to that particular partnership begins to wane,” Eckhardt said.


“I think we are seeing that with the Clean Air Force and I think we owe it to the taxpayers to honestly assess the effectiveness, the scope and the reputation.”


The Clean Air Force is the latest in a series of regional, nongovernmental air quality groups that date to the early 1990s. The Clean Air Force “works with local employers to design company-specific emission reduction strategies,” according to its website. It gets its funding from regional governments, including Travis County and the City of Austin, and private entities recruited by board members or the board members themselves.


According to the organization’s website, a Clean Air Force board member must secure funding in order to keep his or her membership. Its current board members include Davis, Austin Mayor Lee Leffingwell and State Senator Kirk Watson. Representatives from the private sector include Samsung’s Tim Jones and Nancy McDonald of the Real Estate Council of Austin.


The Clean Air Force lists five programs that it is responsible for, including one that Austinites may be most familiar with: Ozone Alerts, which notify area residents when ground-level ozone is high.


It appears as though the organization is staffed by just two people, Executive Director Deanna Altenhoff and assistant Sarah Holland.


Davis noted that he was a strong supporter of tackling environmental issues. However, he worried that the Clear Air Force could not produce evidence of the effectiveness of its efforts – specifically, as he put it, “how you allocate your workload.”


“We’re spending money and, of course, there hasn’t been any information that I have been able to acquire,” he said.


Clean Air Force’s Altenhoff told In Fact Daily that she was unavailable for comment because she was under deadline pressure.

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