San Antonio City Council Vote on Climate Plan Delayed Until Fall

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A large crowd gathers at City Council Chambers to observe the results of the Paris Agreement motion.

Bonnie Arbittier / Rivard Report

The San Antonio Climate Action Plan vote has been delayed until the fall of 2019.

The same City Council members who voted in 2017 on a resolution to take aggressive action on climate change will not be voting on a plan that outlines how to get it done.

Not unless they win another term, anyway.

San Antonio Mayor Ron Nirenberg on Wednesday said the City officials are again delaying a vote on a controversial Climate Action and Adaptation Plan until this fall. That would be months after a May 4 municipal election in which Nirenberg and six incumbent council members are up for re-election and three seats are open.

Since its release on Jan. 25, the climate plan has come under withering criticism from some local business interests and others who oppose its methods of reducing San Antonio’s carbon footprint.

“We have been getting nothing but letters from different organizations, chambers of commerce, oil industries, different individuals that are saying basically the same thing,” said Councilman Clayton Perry (D10), the only council member to vote against the resolution in 2017. He added that the plan “was not ready for prime time and I’m glad it’s being delayed.”

The City will continue to accept formal public comments on the draft version of the plan until April 25, with an updated version set to be released on May 30.

In a phone interview Wednesday, Nirenberg said the plan’s passage has to be “navigated with as much consensus as possible.”

“We could push through for a vote and count to six, maybe seven, eight, nine, I don’t know,” Nirenberg said. “But why would we do that when the whole point of this is that we have a plan that’s realistic, that can be implemented? We’re not doing this for symbolism, we’re doing this for real change.”

The plan calls for San Antonio to be carbon-neutral by 2050, meaning the city would be removing more greenhouse gases that contribute to global warming from the atmosphere than it emits within 30 years.

That specific goal – carbon-neutral by 2050 – stems from a resolution passed 9-1 by Nirenberg and other newly seated council members in June 2017. The resolution committed San Antonio to do its part to comply with the goals of the Paris Agreement, an international accord meant to limit the worst effects of climate change.

That’s the part of the plan that’s been controversial. It calls for CPS Energy, San Antonio’s municipally owned utility, to transition further away from coal and natural gas and for only electric and other zero-emitting vehicles on San Antonio roads by 2050.

Other measures like increasing San Antonio’s tree canopy, helping the city become more resistant to floods and droughts, and improving access to healthy food have drawn little attention.

Many of the plan’s proposals are the result of about a year’s worth of meetings by more than 90 volunteers, overseen by the City, CPS Energy, and Navigant Consulting. University of Texas at San Antonio faculty provided some research support but had most of their role shifted to Navigant. As of last year, CPS Energy had planned to spend $650,000 on the plan’s development.

Asked if he now regrets tying the plan to the Paris Agreement, Nirenberg said, “Not in the least.”

“The plan is best-served, our community is best-served, the future is best-served if we have a plan ratified by council in which everyone’s perspective is accounted for,” Nirenberg said. “We’re not going to compromise the goal, but we’re going to make sure everyone has had a seat at the table and has been heard.”

Many involved with the issue hope for the plan’s future, even with the delay.

“This is a historic plan of great importance for the future of our community,” said Build San Antonio Green Director Anita Ledbetter, who co-chaired the steering committee that helped guide the process. “Since the public has shown so much interest in this plan, I think that extending the commenting period to allow for that participation, my hope is that it will help to create a better plan for all of us.”

Richard Perez, president and CEO of the Greater San Antonio Chamber of Commerce, has been among the business voices calling for a slowdown in the process to more precisely calculate the costs associated with going carbon-neutral by 2050.

“We the chamber and other groups have been asking for additional time to express our concerns, in particular the costs of implementing such a plan,” Perez said. ““It gives us a good feeling in that, indeed, the mayor and the City Council are being responsible to their constituents.”

Perez also thinks the plan will live on past the election.

“I don’t foresee that big of a shift on the City Council that this thing would die,” he said. “I just don’t see that as a realistic outcome, in my opinion.”

The draft that eventually could see a vote will reflect the vision of the plan as a framework for the next 30 years, Nirenberg said, not a list of regulations that get passed with one sweep. Each measure necessary to add up to carbon neutrality will go through its own “stakeholder input, public process, and cost-benefit analysis,” he said.

“The fact that it’s not clear has created more consternation than necessary, and that can be addressed very simply,” Nirenberg said about confusion surrounding the plan’s intent.

Peter Bella, leader of the upcoming March for Science on April 6 who also served on the steering committee, said that San Antonio “cannot afford to fail” at passing this plan.

“We cannot afford to go into the kind of high-risk scenarios that science says are awaiting us,” Bella said. “We need to succeed. If the path that we have available to us includes a delay, that doesn’t mean we’ve failed, that means we have to try harder to succeed.”

14 thoughts on “San Antonio City Council Vote on Climate Plan Delayed Until Fall

  1. This just seems like another example of the severe lack of political will for SA politicians and city leaders to actually do anything to address a changing climate and make the city more sustainable. If San Antonio is serious about making city life better and attracting young “Millennials”, building a tech sector and keeping UTSA students in San Antonio, then city leaders need to get serious about this issue.

  2. Where is the city’s “cost-benefit” analysis of its aggressive, economic/density growth, built environment, SA Tomorrow agenda, heavily facilitating & subsidizing an artificial urban growth metro plan, exacerbating gentrification, displacement, & rising property values/costs, impacting our environment, water resources, pollution rates, doubling our carbon footprint & intensifying heat islands? Widening our socioeconomic divide?
    The city wants to become a metroplex because this is their definition of “success”, rather than to adopt a socioeconomic paradigm, not done at a great expense to the business community, as they will need to adjust their operations as well. Natural urbanization is far superior than city/county officials priming the pump to “create jobs” & appear successful while paying a high price by intervening to accommodate another million new residents in 25 yrs. Those officials supporting their growth machine will not be around to witness the consequences of their “vision” — corrective action later will be too late.

  3. you want initiatives and policy prescriptions built around the elimination of fossil fuels and businesses reliant on fossil fuels. Think about that for a moment, this is why when you move beyond rhetoric to concrete action, it comes to a grinding halt. It’s not feasible. The very idea of our city as a city would cease to exist as would all cities. Transportation, food, production, would all cease as we know it and the degree to which you could do any of it on renewables would be on a scale that couldn’t support a town of 100k much less a couple million. It’s all air castles and the stuff of TV and science fiction. Your electric car and paper straw don’t make even a bit of a difference but if it helps you sleep at night, well, ok.

    • Due to the technology disruption of renewable production, we will all be using it by 2040. Only oil production below $40 will survive. There is no stopping it now, only slowing it.

  4. Such a disappointment, but I can’t say I am surprised. The issue isn’t the vote on it the lack of public knowledge to the masses that let everyone understand what the climate action plan is about and how we can participate. In other words, people have no idea what they are buying into and the forces saying to not buy into it are more motivated to keep the public in the dark about the action plan. The sustainability office could really rework the messaging on what it wants to do and how the public can get on board.

  5. Andrew, if you want to include nuclear as renewable, you can do it all right now. Outside of that, you don’t have a prayer of getting off of fossil fuel energy sources. Maybe we’ll discover alien technology in the future that will generate all the power we need through the harnessing of our thoughts. That would be disruptive. As it sits, from now into the immediate future you’ve got gasoline(diesel), natural gas, coal and nuclear. Bio mass, solar, and wind can’t supply a town of 40k much less a couple million. I’d include hydro but the greenies aren’t fans of hydro either

  6. If fossil fuel business is continued to be conducted as usual, then extreme weather events, like Hurricane Harvey, will continue to happen, but with more force and frequency. Obviously any drastic reduction or elimination of fossil fuels, even by 2040, is not realistic. But Andrew is right. Eventually, fossil fuels will run out and some sort of transition will be needed. If San Antonio can get started on using more renewable energy, then perhaps air quality will be better and the EPA can leave the city alone. There are already cities in the US that are using 100% renewable energy and while any energy plan needs to be adapted to San Antonio, there is proof that it can be done. Also, Burlington, VT is 40k so there you go. Anyway, the goal by 2040 is to be carbon-neutral, not carbon free.

    • Burlington gets 72percent of energy from burning wind chips brought in by train which runs on oil and hydro. Standby for short term is ng and nuclear available from other locales. So there you go.

      Frankly, without a radical change in government SA is doomed. The one million will not materialize. The city with its decisions on RNC, CFL, etc is an inhospitable place. Maybe good for tourism, but beyond that forget it.

    • Ugh. Hurricane Harvey was trapped by two, very typical summer high pressure systems. It had no where to go. It was able able to tap the Gulf continuously for energy and moisture.

      If either one high pressure systems was non existent, Harvey would have been spun off into northern Mexico or the upper midwest in a day or two.

      Nothing about the storm that was exacerbated in any form or fashion by “climate change”. Decades of poor decisions in the Houston-area about land use and drainage notwithstanding.

  7. Jack, exactly, Burlington is 42k not a couple million and when the truth is told, they buy energy out on the market from non renewable energy sources in order to meet demand. Also, when you burn wood chips you release CO2 into the air. Now, they’re right back to warming the earth. They measure their “green” by talking about their reforestation and selling their green credits on the market for non green energy not the lack of carbon emissions. Look, I’m all for doing SOME things that are reasonable, natural gas and nuclear are clean, cheap and here now. Unfortunately, this is not what the greenies are clamoring for and demanding.

    • Sure, there definitely needs to be a unique, San Antonio-centric path for cleaner energy and a more sustainable city. And with the fossil fuel industry going strong for now, it could give renewable technology time to catch up and work on things like batteries for energy storage or an updated electrical grid. Just saying that there’s examples to draw from elsewhere, not that they need to be copied.

      • Maybe they’ll get it done, some day, and it’ll check off all the boxes but you’ve got nuclear and natural gas now. Banking on solar and wind doesn’t look like it’s a greener alternative when it all shakes out and it simply can’t meet the demand, it’s not even close. I’d rather not throw any more money down that rabbit hole.

  8. They don’t even have a draft of a plan. I attended both an SA Climate presentation and one by Connect SA and was truly shocked at the incoherence. Our Mayor is anti-rail (which is really the only thing we can do to mitigate the traffic congestion up and down 35 and the pollution. We know it…we need to start working toward it.) and the representative made it clear that solar just isn’t working out financially, so they’re not going to put a lot of work into it. They’re planning to lean on CPS and it’s existing programs to make houses more energy efficient, invest in the infrastructure to harness renewable power and that’s about it. Maybe some Bus Rapid Transit if we’re lucky. What a weak energy plan! I didn’t hear anything being considered that would help us reach a carbon-neutral goal by 2050. I guess we can just wait til 2040 when Austin decides to start running the region and San Antonio can just live under their rule. Leadership has never been SA’s strong point, but I was hopeful for awhile.

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