1, 2, 3 Many Dr Als

by jim on May 2, 2012

What made it possible for someone like Dr. Armendariz to become a Regional Administrator? Years of experience as an environmental engineer? Check. Desire? Check. But also opportunity. Before Downwinders selected him to be our scientist to help enforce the Holcim Cement settlement, he’d never done work for a grassroots group in DFW. He was a blank slate. We were considering other, better-known, more traditionally citizen-friendly candidates in other parts of the country but two factors influenced us greatly. We wanted someone local who could respond quickly in case of an accident or “upset” at the Holcim plant. And we wanted to develop local scientific expertise. We wanted to grow our own. And boy did we. As if some dormant civic DNA had been activated, Dr. Al took to his new public policy-making role like a Polisci major. He outgrew us quickly and became the air pollution expert of choice for a wide variety of groups. All of that work led to him becoming a logical consensus choice for Regional Administrator among the Texas environmental community. And whatever role he assume now, he’ll be a formidable force for good for the foreseeable future. But that all begins with a grassroots group with a garage-sale-size budget taking the leap of faith on an unknown local SMU scientist with no history of environmental advocacy. We keep trying to develop and deploy local expertise as much as we can. Last year, we persuaded UTA Prof. Melanie Sattler to write the first report of its kind detailing how much more profit gas operators could make in the DFW area by installing off-the-shelf air pollution control equipment. What we and other grassroots groups need are more opportunities to be able to pay and cultivate this expertise. Only the fact that Holcim was covering Dr. Armendriz’s tab as part of the settlement agreement with Downwinders allowed us to hire him in the first place. We have to find ways to institutionalize this kind of intellectual agricultural locally. Groups have to seek local expertise out. Funding sources must allow for it in their grants. Not every story will turn out to be as dramatically successful as Dr. Armendariz’s, but we won’t be able to repeat his success unless we’re out there trying.

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