In Memory of William Gill

Bill Gill imageBy: Andrew Hoekzema, Air Quality Program Manager for Capital Area Council of Governments

This Saturday, the Texas Air Quality community will celebrate the life of Bill Gill. Most of us knew Bill either as Air Quality Program Manager at the Capital Area Council of Governments (CAPCOG) or as the Emissions Inventory Section Manager at the Texas Natural Resources Commission (TNRCC). Bill dedicated his life to public service and improving air quality in Texas, and every day of his 42-year career in air quality put the principles of the Environmental Defense Fund into action – guided by science and economics, he found practical and lasting solutions to Texas’s air quality problems.

His career was extraordinary. In 1972, the State of Texas submitted its first State Implementation Plan under the Clean Air Act. Bill may not have known it at the time, but his career would become a major part of the state’s air quality plans over the next four decades. That same year, he started working in enforcement at the Texas Air Control Board (TACB), which was part of the Texas Department of Health at the time. A decade later, he helped establish the state’s Emissions Inventory section, and later served as the Emissions Inventory Section Manager until he retired in 2002 from the TACB’s successor agency, the TNRCC. In his time at TACB and TNRCC, he built one of the premier programs in the world for assessing emissions and ensuring that decisions on air quality had the best information available. Bill’s work won him national recognition: as the TNRCC’s Emissions Inventory Section Manager, he also co-chaired the national point source committee of the Emissions Inventory Improvement Program for the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA).

At TNRCC, he also oversaw an innovative grant program that supported voluntary air quality planning efforts in a number of areas around the state that were experiencing ground-level ozone problems but were still in attainment of federal air quality standards. These areas included the Austin, San Antonio, Tyler-Longview-Marshall, Corpus Christi, and Victoria areas. After retiring from the TNRCC in 2002, he found himself on the other side of this grant program, managing the Austin area’s regional air quality program at CAPCOG for the next 12 years until he retired in February 2014. During his time at CAPCOG, he led a national award-winning effort to voluntarily reduce ozone in Central Texas, bringing together key stakeholders from business, government, and the non-profit sector to improve regional air quality.

While there are many people who have served in government for a long time, Bill’s length of service is not as important as the quality of his service. Bill provided a unique example of the role public servants can play in helping solve problems through collaboration and cooperation. All too often, career public servants will find themselves either losing hope that they will ever be able to help solve problems or finding themselves relying exclusively on the powers of government in order to address problems. Bill found another way.

Bill excelled at bringing all stakeholders to the table when it came to air quality planning. His leadership was instrumental in the region’s adoption of the Early Action Compact (EAC) Clean Air Action Plan (CAAP) in 2002 and the subsequent State Implementation Plan (SIP) in 2004 in order to stay in attainment of the 1997 8-hour ozone standard. This effort took a unique combination of understanding of the political, economic, scientific, and regulatory dynamics of air quality planning that Bill exhibited throughout his career. Bill’s leadership was also instrumental in the implementation of a number of innovative voluntary emission reduction measures in the region. One example was his work with air quality modelers at the University of Texas and plant management at Texas Lehigh Cement Company – the region’s largest point source – to establish a one-of-a-kind emission reduction measure that involved the plant voluntarily reducing emissions on predicted high ozone days during the key hours when the emission reductions would have the most significant impact on reducing ozone. In 2014, the EPA awarded the Central Texas Clean Air Coalition the Clean Air Excellence Award for Community Engagement in recognition of the efforts Bill led in implementing the region’s 8-Hour Ozone Flex Plan and developing the region’s Ozone Advance Program Action Plan.

Bill knew that in air quality planning, it is vital to have good scientific information to make sure that policy-makers make good decisions. As a man with impeccable integrity, he insisted that any research he was involved with had to maintain exceptional levels of quality, and was unafraid to tell people the truth about the science, even if it made them uncomfortable. In 2006-2007, Bill worked with the City of Austin and the University of Texas to model the air quality impacts of TXU’s proposal to build almost a dozen new coal plants in the state while many areas still teetered on the brink of nonattainment for ozone. This research showed definitively that the plants would indeed have a significant impact on Central Texas air quality. Similarly, after UT and Austin Energy modeled the impact of local point sources on ozone, Bill explained to local environmental groups focused on coal plants that the location of the old gas-fired Decker Creek power plant caused it to have about 10 times the ozone impact as the coal-fired Fayette Power Plant, even though the Fayette Plant had higher emissions. Bill understood better than anyone that the public good is served best when decision-makers can be confident that their decisions are based on sound science.

I was very lucky to have had a chance to work with Bill for about five years. I consider it a great honor to have earned the trust and confidence of the person I considered to be the elder statesman of Texas air quality. But there are scores of people working all over the state today whose approaches and perspectives on air quality planning have been profoundly shaped by working with Bill. He taught me the importance of sound science in environmental planning, showed me how dedicated public servants can find and implement innovative solutions to difficult problems, and helped me understand the need to talk with and collaborate with all stakeholders.

Even more important than any of his professional accomplishments, though, Bill was simply a great man. My respect and admiration for him continued to grow every day I had the honor of knowing him. His legacy will live on in all of us who he touched over his long career.

A Memorial Service has been scheduled for Saturday May 16, 2015 at Waller Ballroom, 700 E. 6th St., 2:00-5:00pm. Friends and family are invited to celebrate William’s life and legacy. In lieu of flowers, please contribute to your favorite charity in William’s name.

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One Comment

  1. Kathy Carlson
    Posted May 15, 2015 at 1:15 PM | Permalink

    Awesome bio! I learned a lot.