Here’s who will lead Coastal Bend’s new air quality partnership
A new non-profit organization aimed at improving Coastal Bend’s air quality has announced who will make up its 10-member Board of Directors, which includes elected officials, industry leaders, and community and academic leaders.
Stakeholders in Nueces and San Patricio counties celebrated the milestone at an event Thursday at the Solomon P. Ortiz International Center, marking the next step toward adopting a nonprofit action plan in the goal of keeping the region’s airshed within reach – meaning it meets national air quality standards.
The non-profit, Coastal Bend Air Quality Partnership, aims to improve air quality by promoting voluntary improvement measures and emission reduction activities, providing monitoring and improvement programs air quality and advancing discussions on these topics.
The non-profit organization represents the “next evolution” of the Corpus Christi Air Group, an ad hoc group created in 1995 after the region’s airshed was on the verge of being missed. Thanks to the group’s work, Corpus Christi has never failed to meet federal or state air quality standards.
“It’s been a long time coming,” said Sharon Bailey Murphy, the nonprofit’s first executive director, who was hired in May. She has worked in environmental affairs for the City of Corpus Christi since 2009. “It cannot be said enough that it is 27 years of voluntary collaboration by our community that has gone beyond compliance.”
Gretchen Arnold led the Corpus Christi Air Group and helped establish the new nonprofit organization. Murphy, likening the continued work of Arnold and others to a relay race, said it was up to the new board to continue their work.
“They ran their race well,” Murphy told the audience before handing each board member sky blue batons bearing the Coastal Bend Air Quality Partnership logo. “Now they are passing the baton to us.”
The judges of Nueces and San Patricio counties and the mayors of Corpus Christi and Portland each appointed one council member. The Corpus Christi Port Authority named one, and business and industry leaders named three. In addition, a community leader and a non-voting member with a university education were selected.
Here is who makes up the board of directors.
- Sarah Garza will be the first president of the association. She works as the Director of Environmental Planning and Compliance for the Port of Corpus Christi. She is the representative of the port authority.
- Darcy Schröder will serve as the nonprofit’s vice president and is employed by Valero Energy Corp. as a public affairs officer. She is the representative of the Coastal Bend Industry Association.
- Barbara Canales will serve as treasurer. Elected in 2018, she is the current Nueces County Judge. She is the representative of the county of Nueces.
- John Weber provide the secretariat for the association. He is the representative of the community.
- Zach Albrecht will serve as a member of the Board of Directors. Nominated in 2021 and elected in 2022, Albrecht is a member of the Portland City Council and works at Celanese. He is the representative of Portland.
- Paulette Guajardo will serve as a member of the Board of Directors. A former councilor and elected to the city’s highest elected office in 2020, she is the mayor of the city of Corpus Christi. She is the representative of Corpus Christi.
- Sonia Lopez will serve as a member of the Board of Directors. Elected in 2020, she represents Precinct 1 in the Court of Commissioners of San Patricio. She is the representative of San Patricio County.
- Brady Fontenot will serve as a member of the Board of Directors. He works at Gulf Coast Growth Ventures, a joint venture of ExxonMobil and Saudi Basic Industries Corp. near Gregory. He is a representative of business and industry.
- Travis Chaney will serve as a member of the Board of Directors. He works at Bay. ltd. He is a representative of business and industry.
- Joseph David Felix will be a non-voting member of the Board of Directors. He is an assistant professor of environmental chemistry at Texas A&M University-Corpus Christi.
The Coastal Bend Air Quality Partnership is funded for three years of operation through contributions from local cities, counties, industry associations and other entities.
The non-profit organization will unveil a website sometime in August. Then, the board will be responsible for establishing an action plan. A draft action plan is expected to be presented to the board in December 2024.
The not-for-profit structure was established by a transition task force that included industry leaders, the director of planning for the Corpus Christi Metropolitan Planning Organization and, notably, a member of the Coastal Alliance for Protection of Our Environment – an environmental group.
Portland resident Errol Summerlin, a founding member of CAPE, said working with industry leaders was engaging and fruitful in building the nonprofit, which he says is a ” good start” to reduce emissions.
Summerlin hopes the nonprofit organization will fulfill its stated mission of reducing emissions beyond the minimum required by the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality and the Environmental Protection Agency. Additionally, he said he hopes it will “send a message” to local industry to install more monitoring equipment.
“There’s a strong industry presence (on the board), but that’s because they have a lot at stake if we reach non-achievement,” Summerlin told the Caller-Times. “It’s a good start, and I’ll keep abreast of what they do. I definitely want them to push for more.”
A 2020 study by Texas A&M University-Corpus Christi’s South Texas Economic Development Center indicates that continued population and economic growth – particularly the development of industrial manufacturing plants in the Port District of Corpus Christi and the county of San Patricio – expected to degrade local air quality further.
According to the study, the airshed reaching a non-compliant status could have a significant impact on the local economy. In a hypothetical scenario in which the area is not reached, the study found that the average annual costs for the Corpus Christi metro area would be $586 million to $1.7 billion.
Murphy said collaboration among all stakeholders is critical to the success of the nonprofit and the region in terms of achievement.
“It’s the public, the industry, the school district, the (Metropolitan Planning Organization) and all of us as individuals. It’s not them against us — we have to work together,” Murphy told The Caller. -Times. “Then we can maintain what we have already achieved and go beyond.”