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New checklist measures emissions impact of major developments

Monday, March 2, 2020 by Jessi Devenyns

As Austin works toward its climate plan goal of net-zero greenhouse gas emissions by 2050, the Office of Sustainability is focused on how to monitor the carbon and air quality impact of development on a more granular level. Phoebe Romero from the Office of Sustainability told the Environmental Commission at its Feb. 19 meeting that the department is looking to leverage its Carbon Impact Checklist Tool along with more localized air quality sensors. Romero told commissioners that Austin already has a regional monitoring network – the Capital Area Council of Governments monitors and provides analyses of air quality in Central Texas – but a more localized approach will allow for the identification of air quality trends within individual neighborhoods. Romero said that because UT Austin had a surplus of PurpleAir monitors, which measure particulate matter, the city was able to work with the university to set up neighborhood-level monitoring stations in Dove Springs and on Sixth and Seventh streets downtown. The idea is to identify which communities are most affected by the poor air quality that plagues Austin in the summer. “It’s sort of an emerging practice,” said Romero. “It’s still at a very exploratory level.” Identification is one piece of the puzzle; the other is reducing the city’s overall emissions, which come mainly from vehicles. “Transportation is one of our largest problems … if we have a sustainable transportation system, we reduce our carbon,” she explained. The second-largest source of emissions is from electricity use. Currently, the checklist is an advisory tool, but Romero said it has the potential to help the city and the development community better understand – and mitigate – the emissions impacts of major developments. At this point, she said that the immediate and pressing question for the city was how to plan for a more sustainable transport system. “That’s going to be an ‘It takes a village’ problem,” said Caitlin Admire with the Office of Sustainability.

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