AUSTIN – Public Citizen Texas will be honoring the recipients of this year’s Texas Outstanding Public Service (TOPS) Awards at the organization’s 25th anniversary dinner today. The awardees are local visionaries, recognized experts and celebrated advocates who have aided in the effort to help Texas realize a more environmentally conscious and sustainable energy future.
Those receiving the TOPS Awards were chosen by Tom “Smitty” Smith, director of Public Citizen Texas, and his staff based on their accomplishments and contributions to the overall health, safety and democracy of all Texans. This year’s lineup of winners includes two journalists, three legislators, two activists, a whistleblower, a legislative aid and a man whose lifetime of achievement merits the finest award of all.
Winners of this year’s awards include Roger Duncan, general manager of Austin Energy, Austin American-Statesman reporter Claudia Grisales, San Antonio Current reporter Greg Harman, state Reps. Dave Swinford and Rafael Anchia, citizen activists Gerry Sansing and Dr. Wes Stafford, state Sen. Wendy Davis, whistleblower Glenn Lewis and state legislative staffer Doug Lewin.
Duncan will receive this year’s Lifetime Achievement Award. Duncan is a true visionary who has not only blueprinted the greening of the Austin City Council but also of the city’s public utility. He successfully transformed Austin Energy and set standards for the rest of the nation. He has been a major player in the fight for green issues for more than three decades – starting with his journey as a student activist in the 1970s, serving two terms as a member of the Austin City Council in the 1980s and eventually leading the city’s environmental department for nine years as the assistant director. Duncan is considered the architect of several of Austin’s nationally acclaimed energy efficiency and renewable energy programs, including GreenChoice and the Green Building Program. Furthermore, under Duncan’s leadership, Austin Energy adopted ambitious goals to bring more solar energy to Austin, committing to the development of major solar generating capacity. Duncan was also one of a few people to realize early on that the city of Austin had the potential to reduce urban air pollution by using plug-in hybrids. He assembled a coalition of potential buyers of plug-ins in the country and implemented a program at Austin Energy that offered an incentive package for such hybrids. Although he has announced his planned retirement for next year, it will not be surprising to see him in some sort of leadership role in the city in the near future.
In a quote from Duncan published in the Austin Chronicle last month, he said, “Today, it is time for me to return to my original role as an involved citizen of Austin.” Public Citizen Texas welcomes him as such
The Austin American-Statesman’s Grisales will receive the award for Investigative Reporter of the Year. The honor is truly well-deserved as Grisales devoted countless hours researching and reporting on the questionable practices at the Pedernales Electric Cooperative. After covering a member-led revolt against longtime leaders at the co-op, Grisales realized she had the story of a lifetime. She worked on the issue since June 2007, producing more than 90 articles that ultimately led to the resignation of the company’s top executives and the implementation of reformed leadership.
Harman from the San Antonio Current will be named the Environmental Journalist of the Year for his outstanding work uncovering the true cost of nuclear power, from cradle to grave. Harman is a key player in educating both the public and high-ranking decision makers in an effort to transform public discourse. Harman also is considered a pioneer in the forefront of new media – using social media tools like blogging, Twitter and Internet video segments to supplement his concrete reporting skills. He is a true environmental journalist whose work and attitude alone are testaments of his long-standing commitment to expose the environmental problems that plague Texas.
State Rep. Swinford (R-Dumas) will receive this year’s Wind Warrior Award for his four plus years of work to bring wind power to western Texas. Swinford sponsored legislation to connect wind farms in western Texas with the state’s major urban centers, creating competitive renewable energy zones.
State Rep. Anchia (D-Dallas) will be named the Legislator of the Year for his support and sponsorship of renewable energy bills. Constantly referred to as the “Hispanic Obama,” Rep. Anchia is fast becoming the go-to guy for a variety of consumer, environmental and ethics issues. He carried a massive energy efficiency bill in the last two sessions of the Legislature and had a major influence on clean coal legislation, which resulted in significantly stricter emissions standards. All this and his continued advocacy of election reforms have earned him this prestigious award.
The award for Best New Legislator will go to state Sen. Davis (D-Fort Worth) for her dedication to public health and moral obligation, as well as her efforts to promote a clean and healthy environment for her Tarrant County residents. In the first half of the 81st Legislature, Davis succeeded in passing two bills relating to the Barnett Shale natural gas drilling that has affected her designated district of Tarrant County. The bills are a part of a package that Davis is attempting to advance through the legislative process. She believes the new legislation will help alleviate the area’s air emissions issues and residents’ woes, finally cleaning the dirty air her Tarrant County families have been breathing for years.
The Activist of the Year award is awarded this year to two individuals whose advocacy work has made a huge impact with the Clean Economy Coalition of Corpus Christi. The first winner is Gerry Sansing. As the chairman of the Clean Economy Coalition, Sansing is leading the fight against the Las Brisas coal plant by piloting a wide variety of forums and subgroups, which have come to include students, parental boards, fishermen, tourism committees, and others concerned for overall public health. It takes a real leader to keep all groups harnessed and working toward a common goal – and Sansing has done it. During the legal showdown, over 300 people and 50 factions were present to voice their opposition to the plant. This continued fight not only will help prevent further pollution from suffocating Corpus Christi, but will ameliorate the air quality of areas as far away as Victoria and San Antonio. Sansing’s efforts are not limited to his activism against the coal plant alone but also to his ongoing endeavors to make Corpus Christi a leader in clean energy development.
Stafford, a member of the Clean Economy Coalition, also will be awarded for his accomplishments. Stafford was responsible for organizing a group of physicians in opposition to the Las Brisas Energy Center in Corpus Christi. His advocacy encouraged three different associations of physicians and school nurses to engage themselves as outspoken opponents of the coal plant. Stafford pushed even further when he ventured to towns outside Corpus Christi and rallied the smaller councils to join in denouncing the 1200-megawatt coal plant.
A “whistleblower” is commonly defined as a person who exposes any wrongdoings within an organization in the hope of stopping it. This year, Lewis will be presented the Whistleblower of the Year award for his above board actions for change in support of a Public Citizen cause. Recently, Lewis was employed as a technical writer and editor for the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality, working on a low-level radioactive waste dump. After the agency drafted a license for Waste Control Specialists, against recommendations by the eight-member permit review team, Lewis courageously resigned rather than participate in the issuance of the license.
Lastly, the Best Legislative Staffer award will go to Lewin for his continued effort in constructing complex proposals that may help to solve several problems our state faces today. As the legislative director for Sen. Rodney Ellis and Rep. Lon Burnam, Lewin became a leader among legislative staffers. He maintains this leadership role on a variety of consumer, environmental, renewable and good government issues. He initiated a coalition of aides from both the House and Senate forces that came together weekly to discuss energy policy from all perspectives.
Lewin often served as a watchdog within the halls of power – alerting groups like Public Citizen of bad legislation that would have otherwise tiptoed right past us and made its way through the legislative process.
In celebrating the Texas Outstanding Public Service (TOPS) Awards, Public Citizen Texas hopes to honor “public citizens” who have gone above and beyond to institute and inspire change, as well as set supreme examples to be followed by others around them. By acknowledging these individuals for their achievements and devotion to various causes, we are building a legacy of concerned and active citizens. Through instigating great conversation and implementing progressive ideas, hard work and unabashed commitment and fighting for basic rights and pushing for invaluable change, these TOPS awardees will forever be known as outstanding public servants for all of Texas.
The awards will be presented at the 25th Anniversary party of Public Citizen Texas, to be held tonight at the Barr Mansion in Austin, Texas.