by Mark Reagan
If San Antonio doesn’t come up with an air quality plan, it could lose its status as the only major city in the country to attain the Environmental Protection Agency’s clean-air attainment status.
During a budget presentation to the City Council Thursday morning, Chief Sustainability Officer Douglas R. Melnick said creating that plan is one of the department’s major initiatives for 2015.
And if the EPA tightens its air quality regulations, which Melnick said is likely, the Alamo City will be designated as being in non-attainment in 2017
According to Melnick, the Office of Sustainability is working with the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality and receiving some funding from the organization for the air quality plan, which would be San Antonio specific and submitted to the Alamo Area Council of Governments for a larger regional plan.
To be sure, the Alamo City is buzzing with plans. The air quality plan would fit into several other larger plans, including a sustainability plan that Melnick said would provide a framework for community and municipal priorities, as well as fitting into San Antonio’s multi-modal transportation plan, SA2020, Mission Verde and the over arching comprehensive plan Mayor Ivy Taylor announced earlier this year.
District 10 Councilman Mike Gallagher said San Antonio residents should be concerned about the EPA raising its standards because if the Alamo City isn’t in attainment, its residents will feel a pinch in their pocketbooks, namely if motorists are forced to have vehicles tested for emission standards during state inspections.
“For those who have lived where this occurred, you pay a lot more money,” Gallagher said.
However, District 9 Councilman Joe Krier questioned why the City Council even funds the Office of Sustainability. He said the office is a misuse of tax payer money because it duplicates initiatives and plans regarding sustainability that are already happening in other departments and other agencies.
“Everyone who has any sense is already doing this,” Krier said, suggesting that the proposed $3.2 million budget, more than half of which is grant money, should be redistributed to other City departments that are in need.
District 6 Councilman Ray Lopez disagreed, saying that Melnick’s department provides council members with data-driven numbers to influence policy decisions. District 7 Councilwoman Mari Aguirre-Rodriguez said air quality should be the City Council's greatest priority.
But this isn’t the first time Krier has brought up criticism of sustainability plans and how the City is managing its long-term policy. During a September 3 budget hearing for the Planning and Community Development Department, Krier questioned why the City Council would spend money on a long-term water plan when the San Antonio Water System is the City Council’s designated agency on water issues.
To be sure, this debate is not be going away.