Brendan Gibbons / Rivard Report
San Antonio’s controversial Climate Action and Adaptation Plan has gotten its first formal endorsement from a business group, one that represents companies on the city’s West Side.
On Thursday, the West San Antonio Chamber of Commerce’s board of directors approved a resolution supporting the City’s revised climate plan. The chamber held a press conference Friday at which City officials praised its members for being the first local business chamber to officially green-light the plan.
“We had been talking about this issue as a board for a couple months now,” chamber board Chair Rudy Rodriguez said. “It was time for someone to take a leadership position.”
Along with strategies to cope with more intense heat waves, droughts, and torrential rain, the climate plan calls for San Antonio to reduce its emissions of global warming greenhouse gases to net zero by 2050. The plan grew out of a 2017 resolution by San Antonio’s City Council to join hundreds of others of cities in working to meet the goals of the Paris Accord, an international climate agreement.
The West Side chamber’s formal support for the plan isn’t surprising. Its CEO, Kristi Villanueva, served on the climate plan’s steering committee and has spoken publicly about climate action being a positive step for San Antonio. Many of its largest members, including VIA Metropolitan Transit and CPS Energy, were involved in the plan’s creation.
Those who support the plan’s current iteration are rallying around the concept of it being a framework for how to get to a zero-carbon future. Revisions to the plan struck out most of the hard targets to reduce fossil fuel use, leaving in place vaguer language.
Those changes have led some dedicated San Antonio environmentalists to say the plan is now basically meaningless. But, as Villanueva said at the press event Friday, not everyone thinks like a hard-core environmentalist.
“I don’t want to give up everything; I don’t want to change my entire world,” Villanueva said. “But offer me choices, and I’ll take many of them.”
State Rep. Ray Lopez (D-San Antonio), a former City Council member who pushed for the creation of San Antonio’s Office of Sustainability during his time on council, said many of the plan’s supporters care less about the 2050 goal than what happens next.
In an interview at the West Side chamber Friday, where Lopez serves on the board, he made a football analogy that likened going carbon-neutral in three decades to winning the Super Bowl. Instead of going for the NFL championship, San Antonio should be focused on making the next play, he said.
“The next big step is to philosophically embrace mass transit,” Lopez said. “What will it take to get me out of my car out in the suburbs and be able to take a bus downtown? I’ll tell you what doesn’t get me there, and that’s one-hour cycles of our bus system.”
The softened climate plan language still faces opposition. Brent Bennett, a policy analyst for the Life:Powered initiative of the free-market think tank Texas Public Policy Foundation, said the organization will continue hosting town hall events in San Antonio, “trying to use the attention created by the draft release and the vote to raise up how harmful these policy proposals are.” It’s holding its third such event on Thursday, Sept. 5.
“Everyone just seems happy to stick their heads in the sand about what is needed for San Antonio to actually accomplish anything in the plan,” Bennett said in an email.
However, there are signs that some business entities that gave the draft climate plan a frosty reception are warming up to the new version.
One is CPS Energy, whose board of trustees passed a resolution in support of the new climate plan at their August meeting.
The new climate plan draft expressed support for CPS Energy’s Flexible Path plan, under which the utility would get half its power from renewables by 2042. However, the utility has suggested it still plans to be burning coal and natural gas into the 2060s, making its Flexible Path incompatible with the goal of going carbon neutral by 2050 without the help of technology to zero out carbon emissions from coal and gas.
In an email earlier this month, NuStar Energy Chief Administrative Officer Mary Rose Brown said company executives are “pleased that [the climate plan] embraces the CPS Energy Flexible Path.” The San Antonio-based company is among the nation’s largest energy pipeline and storage companies.
One sticking point for businesses and other groups skeptical of the climate plan is its lack of a cost-benefit analysis. The new draft cut out even the rough estimates of the level of investment needed for each strategy to cut emissions.
But Brown expressed support for doing a cost-benefit analysis at the time any new ordinances that stem from the climate plan go before City Council, something that Nirenberg and other officials have guaranteed.
“Given the constantly evolving technological advancements and the inherent cost efficiencies in these technological advancements, costing it out at the time it is being considered for adoption makes a lot of sense to us,” Brown said.
One of the first draft’s most strident critics was the San Antonio Chamber of Commerce, whose president and CEO Richard Perez has said the first draft needed a better cost analysis.
Last week, after council members heard a presentation on the climate plan at a Thursday meeting, Perez said in an emailed statement that “there have indeed been changes made to the document in keeping with the myriad concerns voiced by the San Antonio Chamber of Commerce and a multitude of our business members both large and small.”
“We believe this is a very positive step forward,” Perez said.
He added that the chamber’s executive committee and board of directors will ultimately decide whether to take a formal position.