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Leffingwell votes against climate protection clause in CAMPO plan

Thursday, October 31, 2013 by Michael Kanin

Austin Mayor Lee Leffingwell found himself Wednesday defending a controversial vote to take references to climate protection and greenhouse gas emissions out of the Capital Area Metropolitan Planning Organization’s 2040 plan. Leffingwell told In Fact Daily that he cast his vote with an eye toward preserving regional harmony.


An original supporter of Austin’s Climate Protection Plan, Leffingwell said that he still supports the content of that piece of city legislation. He also noted emphatically that he believes in climate change, and that “it’s in large part caused by human activity.”


Leffingwell told In Fact Daily that his vote – at CAMPO’s most recent board meeting – was in deference to other regional voices; an effort to keep “peace in the valley,” as he put it.


He also noted that the language he voted for was to be included in the organization’s mission statement. He called that “a meaningless little statement about what our purpose is there at CAMPO.”


“I gleaned from the discussion…that our mission is to relieve congestion, promote energy conservation, promote water conservation, and to combat climate change – or something like that,” Leffingwell added, noting that at a work session before the meeting the climate change portion of the statement had been removed.


The Mayor’s action came as part of a two-vote move. The first came on a motion from Austin City Council Member Chris Riley to put the reference to climate change back in the statement. In so doing, Riley reminded his CAMPO colleagues that “this amendment…would take any reference to climate protection or green house emissions out of the 2040 plan.”


Council Member Bill Spelman and Mayor Pro Tem Sheryl Cole voted with Riley on the matter. Leffingwell did not.


Riley’s motion failed 7-9. A subsequent vote to approve the language without references to climate change passed 10-6. Leffingwell voted for that item. The rest of his colleagues did not.


With the action, CAMPO members declined to return to references made to climate change in the organization’s 2035 plan.


“It was a divisive issue that all of the people outside of the City of Austin felt very strongly about,” Leffingwell continued. “They were ticked off by those words and I did not see any point about trying to irritate them over something that was meaningless.”


Leffingwell further noted that language referring to conservation in the statement implied a tack toward “combating climate change.”


“To me, it was on the one side, you have this group of people who want to make a big deal out of it, and the other people – it infuriates them to talk about it,” Leffingwell continued. “(So) why not just take it out and be done with it? It doesn’t change anything.”


For her part, Cole told In Fact Daily that the vote was over goal-setting, and noted that CAMPO is a “regional organization” before offering that she thinks “it’s very important that Austin put a priority on climate protection.”


Cole also invoked the Climate Protection Plan, noting that the city has already voted to follow its tenets. To that, Cole added that she feels there is “no doubt that transportation is a big factor in…climate protection.”


She added that people in the CAMPO region “drive long distances to work,” but declined comment on Leffingwell’s vote.


Spelman told In Fact Daily that he felt that the inclusion of climate language was “very important.”


“If you’re talking about a transportation program, a transportation plan on a long-range basis, you ought to acknowledge the facts that…(it’s) going to have a huge effect on how people get around over the next 25 years,” Spelman said.


He put his point in the context of regional costs. “One of those facts is that, because of climate change, it is extremely likely I think in the next few years that we are going to have a huge carbon tax. It’s also extremely likely that gasoline prices are going to continue to go up.”


Spelman continued. “This is going to have an effect on people’s willingness to drive. This is going to have an effect on people’s willingness to assess alternatives. This is not, by any means, the biggest reason that we need to consider alternatives – but it is an important contributing reason. And it’s an important contributing reason for us to be careful about the number of vehicle miles traveled in the region.”


“I think it needs to stay in.”


Spelman added that he and his CAMPO colleagues could get “another bite at this apple” in February. “The whole thing comes back up in February,” he said. “It would require positive action on somebody’s part to try and put it back in…but we can put it back in in February if we can find the votes to do it, and I hope we do,” he concluded.


For his part, Riley echoed Cole and Spelman. “Climate protection has been an important priority for the City of Austin since at least 2007, when the Council initiated the Austin Climate Protection Program,” he said in a statement delivered via email. “More recent information has only strengthened the case for focusing on climate change as a major concern. CAMPO’s current long-term plan identifies climate protection as an express goal for our region, and I’d like to see that goal carried forward to CAMPO’s 2040 plan.”

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