Q&A with Kristen Lee, Precinct 2's Senior Policy Advisor
1. Describe the purpose of the Precinct 2 policy team and your role.
The policy team is made up of seven staff members, including five policy advisors, Policy Director Mercedes Sanchez and Senior Director Kris Banks. Each advisor is responsible for a piece of Commissioner Garcia’s public policy portfolio. Those policy areas include criminal justice, housing, court agenda management, health, and the environment. We collaborate frequently where our policy areas overlap and to cover policy issues outside of these broad topics as needed. I have the good fortune to be responsible for shepherding Commissioner Garcia’s environmental initiatives to fruition. My duties are wide-ranging and include participating in emergency preparedness and response and establishing policies that improve sustainability at the Precinct and county levels.
2. What are some of the major projects you’ve led?
One of Commissioners top priorities is developing a more resilient and sustainable approach to the way the County purchases its energy. In February of this year, we took a major step toward achieving this goal by delivering a Clean Energy Strategy to Commissioners Court and receiving unanimous approval to move forward with the approach outlined in it. Our new strategy calls for a long-term power purchase agreement with a new renewable energy asset combined with increased energy efficiency, load flexibility, deployment of on-site solar and energy storage, and support for community energy programs. Thanks to Commissioner Garcia’s leadership, NRG Park will jointly bid with Harris County for renewable and retail energy to achieve the greatest impact at the lowest possible cost. The development and deployment of this strategy is a much-improved deal for Harris County residents and the environment.
In 2019, Precinct 2 suffered through several large-scale industrial incidents that jeopardized the environment and left residents feeling less safe. Our industrial neighbors took note of Commissioner’s “good neighbor” policy, which essentially calls on all of us to come together in good times to ensure we’ll be able to work together in bad ones. In that spirit, the American Chemistry Council Foundation awarded Precinct 2 a $1 million grant to improve our understanding of ambient air quality and strengthen the way we communicate about industrial incidents. Through this grant, we facilitated the purchase four stationary air monitors, seven mobile air monitors, and one regulatory-grade air monitor for Pollution Control Services. These monitors helped build the foundation necessary to launch the Community Air Monitoring Network (CAMP) that Pollution Control uses to track our overall air quality in Precinct 2 and beyond. This grant also allowed us to partner with the Houston Advanced Research Center (HARC) to develop the Building our Response to Emergency Air Toxics in Harris County (BREATH) project, aimed at improving emergency response protocols and strengthening collaboration across sectors. Just last week, we hosted a tabletop exercise during which approximately 50 participants from industry, community, nonprofits, city, county and federal governments worked through an air toxics emergency scenario together. The exercise very much reflected what it means to be good neighbors.
Finally, late last year, Commissioner Garcia fulfilled a commitment he’d made to the residents of Galena Park by purchasing a system of early warning sirens for this community. Unlike most communities that are immediately adjacent to heavy industry, Galena Park did not have a siren system to alert residents to the need to shelter in place. We worked closely with city officials to navigate the procurement process (which took a very long time), but the purchase was finalized in December 2021 and the sirens are set to be installed and operational in the next few weeks (depending on weather).
3. What are some of the projects or efforts you are working on now?
I’m continuing to work on all the projects outlined above in some way. But I’m also working with the County Attorney’s Office and Pollution Control to stay on top of the permitting process for concrete batch plants in Precinct 2. We have work ahead of us to challenge these applications and the way TCEQ has written the permits themselves.
4. What is the best part about your job?
As cliché as it may sound, the best part of my job is the opportunity to make a positive difference in my community. I’m a longtime La Porte resident – I’m raising my kids here. I love working with my neighbors – people who understand and are invested in our home – to make us safer and find ways to live more sustainably.
5. What does Earth Day mean to you?
For the past two years, my family and I have taken a trip to a national forest or preserve on the weekend following Earth Day. It’s a great annual reminder of what a gift our planet is, and I hope to instill a sense of reverence for this gift in my kids. Our fate is tied to the health of planet. Whether it be on Earth Day or any day, my hope is that we acknowledge just how much work we must do to care for our shared home.
Kristen Lee is a Senior Policy Advisor for CommissionerAdrian Garcia. Prior to joining Precinct 2, Kristen served as an AssistantCounty Attorney, focusing her practice on the Texas Public Information Act andproviding general counsel to county departments and offices. She sits on theeditorial board of the Houston Lawyer, a magazine published by the Houston BarAssociation (HBA) and is a long-time member of the HBA’s Law and Mediacommittee and Environmental Law Section where she serves on the NominationsCommittee. She also serves on the Air Quality Advocates Committee of AirAlliance Houston, the Regional Air Quality Planning Advisory Committee of theHouston-Galveston Area Counsel (H-GAC) and on the Board of La PorteRedevelopment Authority. She, her husband Zach, daughters Madeleine andCharlotte, parents Karen, Skip, and Linda, dogs Sam and Leia, and catsRocksteady and Schala all live in La Porte and are proud to call Precinct 2their home.