John Duffy - 2012 Candidate for Place 5 - Answers to Multi-Environmental Issue Questionnaire
Each 2012 Austin City Council candidate was sent a Multi-Environmental Issue Questionnaire with 28 questions broken into seven subject areas. The questionnaire as well as information about the live, televised May 23rd Election 2012 Green Forum is here. Below are the written answers submitted for John Duffy:
• What do you believe that Austinites think are significant environmental issues? How do you plan to address those?
There are so many. Water Treatment Plant Four and it’s effect on the Bull Creek Preserve. On this, I would shut down construction of the plant. The Fayette Coal Plant is another, and I would like to shut down AE’s reactor, not sell it for others to use. Water is a huge issue, and I absolutely want to work on massive conservation. This includes protecting the Aquifer and not building highways over it. I think Austinites worry about car dependency, which I agree is a massive problem. Not only do we need to increase bike and moped viability, but we need to increase neighborhood viability so people don’t have to go so far for the things they need. I am a HUGE proponent of local small permaculture farms, food forests, and the abdication of city land to neighborhood residents for the creation of co-ops, which keep people employed where they live.
• What positive contributions have you made to environmental efforts in the past?
I am a small time food grower myself, and I have made many small gardens around time, often utilizing a concept call hugelkultur, which is the burying of dead woodfall. This technique assists in creating drought resistance. Other than that, I am a direct action type of guy. In December I was arrested at the Port of Houston for blocking the entrance. The Port of Houston is home to the who’s who of environmental offenders. I spoke a few weeks ago at an anti-keystone XL pipeline rally at the Capital, and I attended a protest at Obama’s campaign headquarters against the Keystone XL pipeline. I have led several petition drives and protests against Monsanto in central Texas as well.
• What is the role of the sustainability officer and what changes--if any--would you like to see to increase sustainability practices in Austin?
I feel like the word sustainability gets thrown around with no real consideration of what it means. Sustainability refers to a practice that can be continued indefinitely. There is nothing sustainable about a city, about cars, about homes made from trees felled thousands of miles away, of food being shipped 1,500 miles on diesel trucks before it hits out plates. This city will NEVER be sustainable because it will always rely on imports from other places to sustain it’s population, which is too high for the land base itself to support. All we can strive for is mitigation, and being less destructive. So first, we need to admit that. Then we need to stop encouraging development and encouraging people to move here from other population centers. Paying major corporations to build and set up shop here is stupid. It should be reversed. Major corporations who want to come in and tax local infrastructure and resource bases should pay to come. The jobs that we need to create here are in permaculture and the production of simple items that can be sourced locally and constructed with minimum energy inputs.
• What is your strategy for engaging YOUTH and SCHOOLS in sustainability initiatives?
I’m not sure what reach a council person has into an independent school district, thus I have no strategy for this at this time. I’m definitely open to suggestions.
• What steps do you believe the city can take to ensure long-term sustainability of our local food system, including production, marketing and distribution, and preparation and consumption? How can the City make good food easily available and affordable for all of us living in Austin?
Food should be grown EVERYWHERE! The east side used to be full of small farms. Now only a few remain. We need small farms in every neighborhood. People should be encouraged to raise chickens, and where possible, goats and pigs. We need food forests, where local species of fruit and nut trees for a canopy over perennial food plants and local wild edibles.
I would love to see the creation of Co-op grocery stores, cafes, and growing operations. The city can cede land and buildings to communities to accomplish this. This would bring employment, health, and pride to low income communities, as well as long term security and viability.
Development and Transportation
• How will you take use of resources and resource availability into account when making decisions about local economic development and incentives?
It will be at the top of the list.
• Do you support construction of SH 45 SW? Why or why not?
I do not. Not only does it threaten the aquifer, but the building and expanding of highways encourages more use of them. D’uh. People build businesses along them, housing developments, and ultimately, the new highway becomes congested and people complain. It’s like shooting steroids into a problem.
• Going forward, what are your plans for improving Austin’s pedestrian and bicycle infrastructure?
I would like to see car free areas of the city. Not just down town, but select intersections could become car free squares in neighborhoods. Of course, this should be decided within the neighborhoods, but ares like these, especially surrounding schools not only reduce the danger present to children, they encourage being on foot and bike in the community. The outgrowths of this have such great potential, not only to create walkable towns, but secure towns with internal cooperation where people know one and other.
• Campaign finance reports for Council candidates are not due until the end of April, after Early Voting starts. In the past, candidates have made environmental promises which some believe were undermined by the influence of political donations. In the interest of disclosure and transparency, will you tell us who is bundling contributions for your campaign?
Hahahaha! Contributions? I’m an anarchist. No one gives me anything.
• What will you do to create or attract high-wage, family-supporting green jobs to the Austin and Central Texas areas? What will you do to ensure that hard-to-reach populations and communities of color have access to these green jobs?
Green jobs involved shovels and seeds. Everything I have outlined above should be referenced for this question. But frankly, anything reliant on fossil fuel imports, copper mining, and daily truck shipments is not “green.”
• Politicians often say they are against suburban sprawl – yet they approve water and sewer lines and zoning changes that create it. How are you different? How will you ensure that development pays for itself, i.e. the extension of water and wastewater lines? Do you support or oppose giving a discount on electric and water rates to ratepayers living outside the city? Why or why not?
I can tell you I will fight every development plan I can. I oppose discounting any water lines. And you’re right, a goldfish grows to the size of its bowl. If we want to be sustainable, we cannot presume that doubling the population every 20 years is inevitable or desirable. At some point, we have to draw a line, and try to hold and sustain. I think that time is now.
• Between urban rail, expanding the current light rail system, bus rapid transit, a monorail system or HOV lanes on major roadways, toll lanes which transportation options do you believe would be best and worst for Austin and why?
I think bus rapid transit has the most immediate potential to move people quickly, but it is not sustainable, and will quickly become expensive with the constant increase in the cost of oil.
As a native of Chicago, I have seen urban rail be effective. However, this also requires development to follow the path of rail, not the other way around. It’s kind of cart before the horse to lay track once a city is built. I do think though, that the light rail system will gain viability with time, if only the citizens of Austin have patience with it.
HOV lanes are low on my list of priorities, but bike, scooter, and moped lanes I think make a lot of sense. To be frank, I think If we want to get serious about sustainable transit, we need to look to the horse. This is where I’m going to look crazy to everyone, but that’s OK, because everyone looks crazy to me. Horses eat grass and poop fertilizer, there is nothing more sustainable than that. Are they viable now? No. Why? Because we continually subsidized motor transit with every road we build and repair. Rail companies had to build their own track. Internet and phone companies have to build their own towers. Yet automobile companies get all of their necessary infrastructure built with tax dollars. As long as we keep this up, people will keep buying cars, using cars, and believing it’s their god given right to travel fifty miles a day in under two hours.
• As more families are forced to move further out of Austin to find housing they can afford, our traffic is becoming more congested, earning us another distinction as the third most congested city in America and our air quality deteriorates as a result. What would you do to address these interconnected issues? How would you help more residents secure affordable housing in the city?
Stop inducing development and stop giving incentives for major corporations to come to Austin. They bring with them high wage earners, increase demand for homes, and when we overspend as a city we increase taxes.
• Do you believe that the Formula 1 deal is an “historic agreement” for sustainability? Please explain why or why not. What are your concerns around Formula 1 and what should be done to mitigate the impacts?
Hahaha! The Formula One deal is a joke. I do think it’s more complex than most people understand. From what I have heard, there was already a deal in place to build a waste water pipe to that site to prevent a housing development that was supposed to go in from using septic systems. However, giving a billion dollar vanity entertainment company a multi-million dollar subsidy is always a slap in the face.
• The City Council has passed a plan to reach 90% diversion of our discards from landfills by 2030 and 95% by 2040. Would you support any changes to the Zero Waste plan? Phase 1 of the Universal Recycling Ordinance (URO) requires all multifamily buildings, office buildings, and institutional properties in the City to recycle. In Phase 2, the City will add a citywide policy for diverting compostables. Phase 3 will include single-family residences in the requirement to recycle and compost. Do you support all three phases of this ordinance?
I do support the zero waste plan. People don’t realize that first, trash pick-up is a subsidy to the industries that produce disposable products and non-compostable packaging on products. Second, people don’t often think about how trash pick-up doesn’t solve the waste problem, it just moves it somewhere where they don’t have to look at it. I would like to explore reducing trash pick-up, so people have to start making choices about the products that they purchase. If trash pick-up only came every other week, instead of every week, people would see how much waste they generated, and would be inclined to use less disposable items.
• Do you believe Austin should ban certain problem materials, such as styrofoam, to keep them out of our waste stream? If so, which materials should we target? If not, how will you deal with problem materials?
This is hard, because personally, I hate that plastic even exists. But we are attacking the problem not at the root but at the boughs. As long as industry keeps making these products, they will exist. Banning items requires enforcement, punishment, etc. It might make more sense to tax these materials and to use the revenue strictly for their disposal. This is not to say I’m not open to bans, I am, but I need to see feasible plans. For instance, how do you stop someone from New York from mailing a package with styrofoam “peanuts” to Austin?
Water, Streams and Trees
• The health of Barton Springs and its aquifer are always a concern to us. How would you use land acquisition to protect the aquifer? How much would you allocate for this purpose in upcoming bond packages? What new ideas do you have to stop pollution of our waters?
This questionnaire is long. Fortunately, it’s on the issues I care most about. OK, I hate bond packages, first and foremost. Financing anything on debt is stupid. Debt REQUIRES growth to pay it off. Growth REQUIRES an increase in energy use and ultimately, the destruction of ecosystems somewhere. As to acquisition, I could not give you an acreage amount. I would push for a lot, though. Protecting the aquifer is of utmost importance. Our children and grandchildren, and all of the children and grandchildren of the wildlife in this area will thank us for taking this position. Stopping the pollution of our waters could also include the banning of pesticide and herbicide use. Most water in the US is tainted with glyphosate, which is the primary ingredient in Monsanto’s “Round up.” It is an endocrine disrupter, among other things.
• Austin’s residential water rates are among the highest in Texas, and unless Water Treatment Plant 4 is put on the shelf, the cost of water will continue to rise. How will you stop the increase in Austin’s residential water rates?
Well, let’s start by axing WTP4. Then let’s look at massive conservation plans. Then let’s continue to encourage rainwater collection. Then finally, let’s accept that 800,000 people living in a semi-arid, often drought inflicted area is stupid. Growing that population is doubly stupid.
• We’re in one of the worst droughts in Texas history yet we are still watering our lawns. What stronger measures do you see as necessary to conserve water beyond the city’s current goals? How do we get to 140 GCPD or less?
Encourage local plants and trees and wildflowers as lawns, not grass. During droughts we should be in heavy water restrictions.
• Austin has lost thousands of trees during the recent drought, posing a serious threat to our urban forests. What will you do on the Council to protect and replenish these forests? How do these concerns figure into your priorities when it comes to drought response?
Trees shade the soil and are ultimately water positive. I have been on a Tree Folks tree planting, and we need to encourage more of these activities. Drought response should include tree planting and the removal of concrete where possible. We also need to do more to encourage rainwater through swales to replenish these trees, and to absorb into the soil, not to run off down streets and storm drains into the river and off to sea.
• The City of Austin is currently engaged in a public input process to amend the Watershed Protection Ordinance to help preserve east side creeks. Based on this input the Watershed Protection Department will probably recommend headwater setback buffers to be set at 64 acres in east Austin and the ETJ. Would you support or oppose allowing developers to use expanded creek protection setbacks as part of their Park Land dedication requirements?
• What air improvement strategy or set of strategies would you advocate to help clean our air? How can the City leverage its purchasing power to impact air quality?
More trees, less highways. No more paying major corporations to come to town. Oh, and shut down the Fayette reactor.
• Pure Casting Foundry emits toxic metals and carcinogenic compounds/particles through the manufacturing process of steel and aluminum products. Residents have registered odor complaints from this facility and others, most of which are located East of IH 35. The TCEQ has installed an air quality monitor on top of Zavala Elementary, which is located directly south of Pure Castings. Would you support the passage of an air quality nuisance ordinance as part of the solution? Also, What steps would you take to relocate this facility in order to protect the health of the children at Zavala Elementary and area residents?
Yeah, this foundry has to go. Air quality nuisance, yes.
Energy and Austin Energy
• Fayette finally has sulfur dioxide scrubbers installed after many years of delay. Fayette doesn’t have SCR (Selective Catalytic Reduction) technology to reduce NOx emissions that contribute to ozone. Fayette has not installed the technology to control the fine particles (PM2.5) that cause premature deaths and asthma attacks within a few hundred miles. Do you support getting Austin out of Fayette, and off of fossil fuels and nuclear power altogether? How do you propose that we do so?
Absolutely. Shut down Fayette to the extent we can (AE only owns part of the plant.) We can look to the Austin Beyond Coal plan on this, as well as the implementation of decentralized solar. At the end of the day though, we need to stop believing unlimited electricity is a god given right. We need to talk massive conservation. Again, the last few generations have a mindset of entitlement to this power, yet want to wash their hands of all the damage that it does. We should explore voluntary “dark hours,” where homes and businesses sign up for certain blocks of time where their power shuts off completely, and for this, receive reduced rates.
• As the board of directors for Austin Energy, the City Council sets environmental policy for our electric utility. What are your environmental priorities for Austin Energy for the next 3 years? What will you do to increase energy efficiency savings so that we meet our 300 Megawatt savings goal by 2020? Proposed hikes to minimum charges are a disincentive to conservation. Will you raise minimum charges for residential users, and if so, by how much?
No, I will not.
• Currently Austin's water rates have 5 tiers. The lowest "lifeline tier" is less than 10% of the highest tier. Do you support a similar rate structure for Austin's electric utility?
• The City Council adopted the Energy Conservation Audit and Disclosure ordinance in 2008 as a key component of the Climate Protection Program, with the goal of retrofitting older properties with energy efficiency measures at the point of sale.
The program has not yet lived up to expectations, with only 5% of properties sold retrofitted. Would you support mandating some energy efficiency improvements when a home is sold?
• What role does rooftop solar energy have in Austin’s renewable energy mix?
Probably a big role, but on an individual level. I think conservation is the biggest thing we need to focus on.