Hurricane Harvey brought record rainfall and flooding to the Houston-Galveston region. The impacts of the storm and ensuing flooding included loss of lives, homes and livelihoods. In response, researchers from the region with expertise in hydrology, climate science, engineering, coastal resiliency, energy, community development and urban planning came together to strategize on solutions.
It has been 15 years since HARC shifted its complete focus to sustainability, or as we say at HARC, “helping people to thrive and nature to flourish.” During that time, we have collaborated with diverse public and private partners in research and outreach initiatives in our three core program areas of air, energy, and water. That work has encompassed a wide range of topics, including regional air quality research on ground level ozone and air toxics, accelerating adoption of clean and efficient energy technologies, testing of technologies and practices to address environmental and societal aspects of oil and gas activities, and working with stakeholders to translate scientific information about the health of the Galveston Bay Estuary and coastal ecosystems.
In 2016, HARC researchers accomplished a truly impressive body of work that exemplifies the power of public-private partnerships. HARC leads the Department of Energy’s Southwest Combined Heat and Power Technical Assistance Partnership (SW CHP TAP). This program helps businesses, hospitals, schools, and other facilities integrate energy efficiency and power resiliency, which are important aspects of climate adaptation. We also began the work of analyzing and communicating energy savings, emissions reductions, and economic investment benefits for Property Assessed Clean Energy (PACE) districts across Texas.
The Environmentally Friendly Drilling (EFD) program led numerous cooperative research initiatives with university, nonprofit, and industry partners through its Coastal Impact Technology Program (CITP) focusing on air emissions, water resources, site restoration, workforce development, and interstate collaboration. The many successes of this and other Coastal Impact Assistance Program (CIAP) initiatives illuminate the enormous potential of important new funding available from the Resources and Ecosystems Sustainability, Tourist Opportunities, and Revived Economies (RESTORE) of the Gulf Coast States Act.
The Air Quality Science program worked diligently to communicate the results of the Benzene and other Toxics Exposure (BEE‐TEX) Field Study describing exposure to and source attribution of air toxics (benzene, toluene, ethyl benzene and xylenes) near the Houston Ship Channel. The Hydrology and Coastal Watersheds program completed the Double Bayou Watershed Protection Plan and released the second annual Galveston Bay Report Card. HARC launched its People and Nature Speaker Series in May, featuring Dr. Michael Webber who gave an entertaining and informative lecture on the nexus of energy and water based on his book, Thirst for Power: Energy, Water and Human Survival.
HARC staff were honored in 2016 with three awards for outstanding work on energy and water issues. In September, former HARC President Jim Lester was honored with a 2016 Guardian of the Bay Award by the Galveston Bay Foundation for his service in the protection of Galveston Bay’s natural resources. Also in September, HARC’s EFD program was selected by the Interstate Oil and Gas Compact Commission Stewardship Award Subcommittee as the honorable mention in the Environmental Partnership category. In November, Rich Haut and the EFD program were recognized by the South Texas Energy and Economic Roundtable as the 2016 Eagle Ford Excellence Impact Award winner for efforts in protecting the environment, making safety a top priority and giving back to communities of South Texas. In December, Stephanie Glenn accepted the 2016 Our Great Region Diligence Award from the Houston-Galveston Area Council on behalf of the Double Bayou Watershed Protection Plan team and stakeholders. We are extremely proud to have HARC’s work recognized in these areas.
2016 also began a period of transition that will take the organization into 2017. In May, HARC broke ground on its new headquarters which will be the first LEED Platinum building in The Woodlands with 18,000-square-feet of space to accommodate 50 staff, designed and built to the highest standards of sustainability and green design. In June, Jim Lester, HARC’s President since 2012 retired and Lisa Gonzalez, HARC Vice President assumed the helm of the organization. The leadership transition culminated in November with the hire of Mustapha Beydoun as the new Vice President and Chief Operating Officer. We also welcomed two new members to the HARC Board of Directors, Jim Lester and Dr. Ramanan Krishnamoorti from the University of Houston.
2017 promises to be an exciting year for the organization. In March, HARC will move into its new home, a model of environmentally responsible design. As we begin to operate our state-of-the-art home, we will communicate lessons learned to others interested in designing, constructing and operating green buildings in the Houston region. Also in March, we will welcome Dr. Katharine Hayhoe, a world-renowned climate scientist from Texas Tech University, who will headline a People and Nature Speaker Series discussion on climate mitigation, adaptation and resilience and what it means for the future of the Houston-Galveston region.
As we move forward into 2017 and beyond, I am proud of HARC’s achievements and confident that we will continue to build on the exceptional legacy of our founder, George P. Mitchell. We look forward to new opportunities for collaboration with partners bringing sustainability to all aspects of human endeavor; improving quality of life, economic stability, and environmental health. Together we shall continue to help people thrive and nature flourish.