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Commission calls air quality motion a ‘vague statement,’ fails to pass it

Tuesday, October 22, 2019 by Jessi Devenyns

Despite the philosophical support of commissioners, a motion to improve air quality at construction sites failed at the Oct. 16 meeting of the Environmental Commission.

Commissioner Pam Thompson prepared a motion on the fly during a presentation by the Office of Sustainability about air quality in Austin. In her motion, Thompson requested the commission’s support for the city to create air quality standards for developers to abide by as well as an enforcement method for these standards through an assessment.

Commissioner Wendy Gordon called it a “vague statement,” saying the motion lacked a formal introduction and the traditional recommendation structure that lays out the “whereas” reasoning followed by an ask.

Thompson took the edits in stride and tried again. “Let me read it again because maybe I didn’t read it right,” she said.

Still, commissioners felt that the ask was too broad without specific direction on precisely what assessment the commission would like to see nor which air quality levels should be maintained at construction sites.

Nevertheless, “Philosophically, I think everyone is willing to back you up,” said Vice Chair Katie Coyne.

To offer official support to the ask, Commissioner Andrew Creel suggested asking staff to look into data on the issue of air quality and development so the commission can provide a stronger recommendation to Council.

Coyne suggested sending each commission member to their respective Council members to relay this ask personally rather than through a formal recommendation. In the meantime, she said, the commission should work directly with staff to create a more “concrete” ask of Council.

Environmental Officer Chris Herrington noted that Watershed Protection Department staff were willing to work directly with the Office of Sustainability and come back to the commission with information about the effects of construction on air quality and a plan to develop a toolbox for developers to mitigate those effects.

Thompson, however, felt the commission could make the biggest splash via a motion directly to Council. “We need to do it now and not in a little while,” she said. “This is not something we should put on the back burner.”

She pointed to Council’s passage of a resolution declaring a climate emergency as a reason to act quickly.

Still, at a vote the motion to ask Council to look into assessing air quality at development sites and offer mitigation solutions failed, with only commissioners Pam Thompson and Peggy Maceo voting in favor.

Commissioners Andrew Creel, Perry Bedford and Wendy Gordon voted against the motion and commissioners Curtis Smith, Kevin Ramberg and Katie Coyne abstained. Commissioners Mary Ann Neely and Linda Guerrero were absent.

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