Today's a big day at the Austin city council. It can be a big day for the city of Austin and for Formula 1, too.
Working hard with the potential F1 opportunity has been Council Member Chris Riley, who has been laying groundwork to see that Austin can maximize the economic benefits of the Circuit of the Americas as well as making the Grand Prix as environmentally friendly as possible. Today that work may culminate in a deal between F1 and the city of Austin, should council vote to approve it. The environmental initiative is also co-sponsored by Mayor Leffingwell and Council Member Martinez.
Chris Riley said the following via a press release:
The opportunities here involve both the race itself and the technologies associated with the race. I'm excited to announce today that the U.S. Grand Prix will be carbon neutral and the Local Organizing Committee will support the establishment of a clean tech research and development center. This investment will harness the innovative spirit of F1 racing to strengthen Austin 's position as a leader in the 21st century green economy.
This project shouldn't just be about fast cars. The project offers opportunities to bring our local sustainability efforts to a worldwide stage. Over 500 million people in over one hundred countries watch F1. Austin 's version of the event should convey our commitment to clean technology research and development, and should inspire people across the planet to think green.
Beyond the carbon neutrality, a feat within itself, there's this kicker in the deal (see Item 3, page 5, section E, or below the jump): the local F1 sponsors will raise or invest $5 million dollars in green technology research and development. They will also work with the University of Texas and other colleges to research in green racing and transportation. And Riley convinced F1 to agree to work with the City to seek grant and loan funding from the US Department of Energy. This achievement can be a game changer for Austin and the country. If this deal passes, it will show the world an example of Austin at its best.
Here's a list of other community benefits that Riley has helped negotiate:
- F1 will purchase carbon offsets to achieve carbon neutrality for emissions associated with all fuel and energy use related to the race
- At least 50% of these carbon offsets will be local and include extensive tree-planting
- F1 will create an event recycling and composting program for all major events at site; require food and drink vendors to use recyclable/compostable materials as much as possible
- F1 will find a partner to help transport attendees to the event that gives preference to low-emissions vehicles
- F1 will host alternative energy and energy efficient races such as a Go Green Auto Rally and solar-powered vehicle races, as well as bicycle and road races, at the track
The proposal also builds in incentives to move the large-scale events outside of Austin's ozone season-thus helping protect Austin's air quality attainment status.
Riley is, to no surprise, also pushing to have bike lanes put in to help folks get to the track in a sustainable manner as well. Everyone expects that from Chris Riley, but the way his efforts push into greater environmental efforts is truly impressive.
Riley also penned Op-Ed in the Statesman last week that demonstrates his commitment to making F1 do great environmental things for Austin and mitigate as much negative impact from the race as possible.
When one remembers that F1 is using private money to build on private land they purchased southeast of Austin, one might be inclined to wonder why there has been so much fuss about the coming Grand Prix. The increase in property taxes alone will generate up to $4 million for Del Valle ISD, which is as cash-strapped as any school district in the state. (The property currently generates about $150,000 a year in property taxes, before the $300 million development planned for the site: source.) This can be considered another game changer.
Overall, if the council passes this deal and endorses F1 tomorrow, it will further enhance both the image and the reality of Austin as an international leader. About 520 million viewers across the world watch F1 races. Those spectators will hear about Austin's green values, and that's the sort of attention Austin can be proud of.
Although some, in a knee-jerk reaction, have simplistically rejected the idea of F1 as “Europe's Nascar” and unfit for Austin, Riley is a deeply substantive policy wonk who has spent countless hours working with F1, Public Citizen, Environnmental Defense Fund, and many community activists and interest groups. As a result, he has been instrumental in obtaining for Austin an unprecedented package of pro-environment concessions from the developers. And while Riley has taken the lead, several other council members have worked hard and quietly behind the scenes to make F1 uniquely Austin. The recent Shade-Tovo election pointed out many, many flaws about our municipal politics, but this is city government at its best. City Council will meet at 10 A.M.