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Mayoral candidate and Councilman Greg Brockhouse (D6) is proposing planting trees and expanding voluntary energy conservation programs as an alternative to the City-led climate plan, which Brockhouse called “dead” in a proposal he termed “a pro-business Climate Policy.”
In his policy, Brockhouse laid out three goals for his first 90 days — should he win the mayoral runoff on June 8 — that would walk back some of the progress made during the City-led Climate Action and Adaption Plan, or SA Climate Ready, which calls for the City take in the same amount of greenhouse gases as it emits by 2050. Brockhouse has been a staunch critic of SA Climate Ready during his two years on City Council, claiming the initiative would eliminate jobs in an energy sector that “puts a lot of groceries on a lot of tables and pays a ton in school taxes and city taxes.”
Among Brockhouse’s first goals of his “Action Plan SA” is to find money in the City budget and try to work with local corporations to plant 10,000 trees early in his term.
“It’s a community-building thing,” Brockhouse said of the tree proposal. “It’s shade, it’s [carbon dioxide] reduction, the cleanliness of them, the beautification. It’s all-encompassing.”
The idea of planting trees across San Antonio isn’t new. The City and CPS Energy already plant trees and offer rebates for tree purchases under multiple programs, including using funds generated by the City’s tree preservation ordinance. In the City’s most recent 2018 fiscal year, 12,546 trees were planted or adopted in the community using funds generated by that program, Development Services spokesperson Ximena Copa-Wiggins said.
Brockhouse clarified in an interview that he’s proposing adding 10,000 trees on top what local governments are already doing.
In addition to his tree proposal, Brockhouse also said he would convene a 30-day “working group” with entities from San Antonio Water System, CPS Energy, environmentalists, and energy companies to arrive at specific climate policies that City Council could implement quickly.
However, the existing climate plan included input from volunteers who met regularly for roughly one year to talk about how best to act on climate. CPS Energy funded the climate plan process, and committee members included people from the SAWS, solar energy firms, and private-sector engineers and architects, among others.
When asked about how his working group would differ from what’s already been done, Brockhouse said, “It’s an action group.”
“Ron’s plan is a 25-year, 30-year plan, and I don’t know what good that does for anybody if you can’t get it passed,” Brockhouse said. “You’ve got to go now, and start implementing things, and I think we would find them. There’s … billions of dollars spent across the nation on climate research. We know what works and the cost associated with those items, and I say, let’s go, let’s get people in the room and get it done.”
In an email, Russell Seal, a member of the local Alamo Group of the Sierra Club who was involved in the climate planning process, said that Brockhouse has “done nothing but criticize and obstruct the development of a climate plan” over the past two years. The group has endorsed Nirenberg in his reelection bid.
“Now Greg is unveiling his ‘plan’ to dismiss all of the work that a broad range of members of the community have done over the last year because Greg thinks he knows better than us,” Seal said. “We need a mayor who will do more than greenwash, which is all this press release is.”
Brockhouse did say he accepts mainstream climate scientists, who say that humans are chiefly responsible for rapid global warming. He pointed to his vote in June 2017 in support of meeting the goals of the Paris Accord, the voluntary global agreement meant to stop the worst effects of climate change. Brockhouse did try to delay that vote and voiced strong opinions about it making the Council’s first agenda instead of being fleshed out in Council committees.
“We have to admit that the things we do as human beings affect the climate: period,” Brockhouse said.
In the early Tuesday news release and an interview, Brockhouse said the climate plan as proposed would end up eliminating 20,000 San Antonio jobs, but after being asked three times how he arrived at that figure, Brockhouse couldn’t offer specifics. He eventually said, “I’m just adding up employee counts.”
Rey Chavez, president and CEO of the San Antonio Manufacturers Association, said in an email that Brockhouse’s plan is a “more reasonable proposal and would gain support” but that it also must include input from small to medium-sized businesses.
“Under the [climate plan], those businesses would have hurt the most and they employ thousands of San Antonians – they couldn’t afford it,” Chavez said. “Our residents need to be included as well, [there’s a] huge cost to them under the [climate plan].”
The Rivard Report also sought comment on Brockhouse’s proposals from officials with Valero, NuStar, the Greater San Antonio Chamber of Commerce. None immediately responded Tuesday.
The City’s initial draft includes vague cost projections in the form of dollar signs, but so far, no one has released any serious analysis of how the climate plan would affect San Antonio’s economy.
“This 20,000 figure came right out of [Brockhouse’s] nether regions,” Nirenberg campaign consultant Kelton Morgan said in a phone interview.
Morgan said Brockhouse’s news release also contradicts itself when it proposes to “disband any study committees” and “assemble a 30-day working group” in the same sentence.
“I’ve never seen a figure skater spin around in circles like that,” Morgan said.
Many environmentalists support Nirenberg, though the mayor has few tangible policy wins on that front since he took office in 2017. Nirenberg has said he wants to see the City implement permanent once-a-week watering restrictions and update its drainage codes to improve the quality of local waterways. Those remain unaccomplished, though he has championed long-term planning efforts on housing, transportation, and climate.
Brockhouse’s plan did not contain any proposals to address the City’s transportation woes. Vehicles made up 38 percent of the City’s greenhouse gas emissions in 2016, according to climate change figures, and make up a significant portion of emissions that degrade local air quality.
Asked whether Nirenberg could have spent his effort accomplishing more short-term goals, Morgan said if Nirenberg were a “pure politician, I’m sure he would have.”
“This isn’t about politics,” Morgan said. “For the mayor, it’s about doing what’s right for the city, and doing what’s right takes time.”
Morgan reiterated what Nirenberg has said about the climate plan’s delay – with a flood of input coming in from the public, environmental groups, and businesses, officials need more time to weigh the feedback and draft a final version of the plan. A City Council vote on adopting the plan, which was originally scheduled for April, is now slated for sometime this fall.
Morgan also pointed to Nirenberg’s record on San Antonio’s economy, pointing to local unemployment figures nearing a 20-year low, wages growing at twice the national average between March 2018 and March 2019, and more than 44,000 jobs added between June 2017 and March 2019.
“Overall, you’ve got a pro-business climate here,” Morgan said. “You’ve got policies and an atmosphere and a climate that is good at getting jobs. We’re getting better at things like workforce training. We have solid fiscal management at the city. All of that helps bring people here.”
Brockhouse mentioned the opposition to the climate plan after its release from business leaders, many of whom took issue with its proposals to facilitate the transition to zero-emission vehicles on local roads and move CPS Energy entirely away from power plants that emit greenhouse gases.
During the early phase of the Climate Action and Adaptation Plan process, local businesses were invited to participate. City Chief Sustainability Officer Doug Melnick held a private meeting with business leaders in February 2018. The committees met publicly throughout that year, with many of their materials posted at SAClimateReady.org.
“Whether or not two years ago or a year ago Ron Nirenberg invited [them], I can’t speak to that,” Brockhouse said. “I frankly don’t remember them having a major seat at the table or being asked to. The problem is over the last several months, they’ve expressed that they’re not a part of this and it is a job-killing venture.”
Brockhouse expressed support for expanding conservation programs with CPS Energy and SAWS, calling SAWS, in particular, an “industry leader in a lot of that already.” He said San Antonio should continue expanding community solar farms, including an idea for one in his district involving the Westside Development Corporation.
He added that CPS Energy’s Flexible Path vision for an all-of-the-above energy strategy “makes sense,” along with its 10-year, $849 million conservation and energy efficiency program.
Brockhouse, who as a consultant for the City’s police and fire unions was part of a petition drive against SAWS Vista Ridge pipeline project in 2017, also voted against a SAWS rate increase that same year. CPS Energy might be seeking increases soon for the first time in six years, utility officials have said.
“I think rate increases are earned … and I think CPS Energy’s in a better position to make a rate increase argument,” Brockhouse said.