Bonnie Arbittier / Rivard Report
The San Antonio City Council voted 9-1 Thursday in favor of a resolution supporting the Paris climate agreement, joining a list of more than 300 U.S. mayors who have signed a pledge to uphold the accord's environmental policies aimed at countering global climate change.
Earlier this month, President Donald Trump announced the United States would withdraw from the climate accord, a commitment made by 194 other nations. Since the U.S. withdrawal, hundreds of cities and states have demonstrated their local commitment to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.
Mayor Ron Nirenberg, who garnered endorsements from several environmental groups during his campaign to unseat former Mayor Ivy Taylor, said the resolution was "symbolic" but significant. Two days before the June 10 runoff election a large group of environmental activists rallied outside City Hall calling for Taylor to declare her support for the Paris Agreement, but she did not commit.
The Thursday vote came as Nirenberg presided over his first A-session meeting as mayor with a City Council that features six new members.
"This is only a resolution – it’s not creating law," Nirenberg said. "What follows is the policy-making … and we look forward to tackling that."
Councilman Clayton Perry (D10), one of the six new members, was the sole dissenting vote, voicing a need for more feedback from his district before supporting the resolution. Councilman Greg Brockhouse (D6) agreed with Perry about rushing such an important item but ultimately supported the resolution.
"Even though the item has the name of a European City on it, I want to highlight that what we are discussing today is personal and local," said Councilwoman Ana Sandoval (D7), who has an extensive background in environmental health and holds master's degrees in civil and environmental engineering. "Climate change is called a global problem, but its impacts are felt locally. Our city has gotten warmer over the past 20 years – the data shows it."
More than 20 people – including students, scientists, and university professors – signed up to speak during the citizens to be heard portion of the meeting, talking about global warming's effects on Monarch butterfly migration, an increase of asthma cases due to air pollution, and data reflecting a rise in global temperatures.
"This issue will be the unifier of all environmental groups in San Antonio," said Anita Ledbetter, executive director of Build San Antonio Green, a group that promotes sustainable building practices. "We are number one in the state of Texas in renewable energy and water conservation, so we've inherited a great legacy of planning. We have the building blocks ... all the tools to make a success story for San Antonio. The question is do we have the will?"
Councilwoman Shirley Gonzales (D5) said it's important not to lose sight of the local efforts already underway in the city, such as climate mitigation programs through CPS Energy, VIA bus fleet replacements, an urban forestry program, and more. In addition, the City's SA Tomorrow plan, which is in its implementation phase, includes a sustainability plan focused on environmental, social, and economic sustainability.
"SA Tomorrow is a foundation, but now we can use greenhouse gasses as an indicator and start evaluating," the City’s Chief Sustainability Officer Douglas Melnick told the Rivard Report. "The resolution [passed today] states City Council acknowledges the scientific basis for climate change and commits to the goals of the Paris Accord. It is symbolic, but it's a first step [in developing] a climate action plan."
In order to develop such a plan, Melnick said, the Council must decide whether or not to prioritize it in the 2018 fiscal year budget.
"When federal and state governments are pushing back, this is an affirmation of what we believe locally," said Councilman Roberto Treviño (D1).
Nirenberg and Councilmen Rey Saldaña (D4) and John Courage (D9) stressed that the resolution shouldn't be considered a partisan political issue, but something that affects the community as a whole and serves as a building block for future planning.
"This is a public health issue, and we've heard directly from the public health director that many children are suffering from asthma," Courage said. "It's also estimated that San Antonio could experience 17 more days per year of above 100-degree temperatures if our country and own city don’t do something to improve air quality in our city."
Fr. David Garcia, director of the Old Spanish Missions, was one of the last citizens to speak Thursday, and congratulated the Council on debating the issue during the new Council's first A session meeting.
"Two years ago, Pope Francis asked us to consider the issue of climate change and take responsibility – that each one of us needs ecological conversion," Garcia said. "... This is about the whole world."
Meanwhile, City Council also affirmed the Charter for Compassion, which centers on the "golden rule" and invites communities of all sizes to bring compassion as a lens to life in practical, specific ways through compassion-driven actions. San Antonio joins over 80 cities worldwide that have affirmed the Charter for Compassion.
“The resolution calls for the office of the faith-based liaison headed by Rev. Anne Helmke to work with City officials and community organizations to implement the Charter. This city-wide effort hopes to reach commissions, city offices, and all responsible for governance to examine social issues and policy development with a lens of compassion,” said Brian Halderman, spokesperson for Compassionate San Antonio. “It also creates a registry through the City that would provide a place to keep to track actions of compassion throughout the city.”
District 8 Councilman Manny Peláez was absent Thursday for his first A session meeting because he was in Crystal City testifying as a prosecution witness in a federal corruption trial.
CORRECTION: A previous version of this article stated that the Charter for Compassion called for the position of a faith-based liaison. In fact, the position was already there, it simply changes the office of the faith-based liaison to assist the City with implementation of the charter.