at the Climate Action and Adaptation Plan (CAAP) public meeting at San Antonio Central Library on Feb. 19, 2019.
Community members with differing opinions workshop thoughts and ideas during a Climate Action and Adaptation meeting in February. Credit: Bonnie Arbittier / San Antonio Report

The same San Antonio City Council members who passed a resolution in 2017 supporting more aggressive action on climate change will likely not have to vote on the specifics of that plan until they’ve learned whether they’ve won another term in office.

Bruce Davidson, spokesman for Mayor Ron Nirenberg, said in a text message Monday that May 16 is now the new “target date” for a City Council vote on the climate plan. The vote was originally scheduled for April 11, ahead of the May 4 municipal election in which all council members are up for reelection.

If held on May 16, the vote would happen before any new council members elected in May would start their terms in June.

Unveiled Jan. 25 after a more than yearlong process involving around 90 volunteers, the plan calls for San Antonio’s global warming greenhouse gas emissions from power plants, vehicles, and other sources to drop to net zero by 2050.

To do so, it calls for CPS Energy to entirely move away from coal and natural gas and complete replacement of gasoline or diesel vehicles on San Antonio roads with zero-emitting vehicles within 30 years.

The plan has sparked unprecedented public discussion of climate change in San Antonio, a city climate scientists predict will feel more like the Texas-Mexico border region within a single generation. City officials announced in a news release last week they were extending the comment period on the plan until March 26 to keep up with the wave of feedback they’re receiving from the community.

“Over the last few weeks, we’ve had great dialogue,” Chief Sustainability Officer Doug Melnick said. “We want to keep those conversations going. Organizations and community groups have requested presentations, and the goal is to make sure that everyone – whether a resident or stakeholder group – has the opportunity to be engaged.”

The release states that the plan would go before City Council “in May” but didn’t specify when.

After taking office in June 2017, the current City Council’s first move was to commit to acting on climate change. The resolution it approved 9-1 committed San Antonio to joining other U.S. cities in “adopting and supporting the goals of the Paris Agreement,” a non-binding international accord to limit the worst effects of climate change.

Mayoral candidate and Councilman Greg Brockhouse (D6) voted for the resolution in 2017. Recently, Brockhouse has hammered the climate plan for its lack of specifics on costs.

In a Monday phone interview, Brockhouse called the delay on the vote “a purely political move so that Ron Nirenberg doesn’t have to justify his multibillion-dollar San Antonio Green New Deal.

“If you have the guts and the policy you believe on it, put it on the ballot,” Brockhouse continued.

In a statement in response to Brockhouse, Nirenberg said delaying the vote aims to “ensure there is ample time for citizens, employers, and local companies to provide their input so we can craft a proposal that works for all of San Antonio.

“I believe in government that is open and accountable to the citizens, and I am surprised by any hesitancy to seek additional public input,” Nirenberg continued.

Brockhouse said he voted on the resolution in 2017 because he supported “in principle” many of the items, such as transitioning  to renewable energy and improving the air quality that residents breathe.

“We all should [support the resolutions] until we find out how much this is going to cost, because there’s ramifications to peoples’ lives if you’re forcing them to pay more money,” he said.

It’s not clear to what degree San Antonio’s business community supports or opposes the plan. Some organizations, such as the San Antonio Manufacturers Association and the San Antonio Chamber of Commerce, have called for more specifics on the plan’s costs and who would bear them but haven’t publicly come out for or against the plan.

What’s also not public knowledge yet is how energy companies are receiving the plan. Spokespersons for Valero and Andeavor, both headquartered in San Antonio, did not immediately respond to inquiries Monday.

Chris Cho, a spokesperson for San Antonio-based NuStar Energy, said in an email that the company was not involved in the development of the climate plan or briefed on it.

“But, obviously, as one of the city’s major employers that is engaged in a business that could be impacted by the plan, we have engaged in discussions with the city and other members of the local business community to better understand its potential impact on our business, as well as the potential impact on the broader local business community, and future economic development opportunities for San Antonio,” Cho continued.

Cho deferred further questions about the plan’s effect on San Antonio to the San Antonio Chamber and the San Antonio Manufacturers Association.

Council members seem to be grappling with the political implications of ideas like abandoning coal and natural gas, strengthening building codes to improve energy efficiency, and moving away from fossil fuel-powered vehicles.

Councilwoman Ana Sandoval (D7), a proponent of the climate plan, said that slowing down the process will give those involved with the plan more time to answer the public’s questions and incorporate their feedback into the final document.

“I would like to think that we would vote our conscience no matter what,” Sandoval said Monday. “I think it just means we’re going to have a more informed product and a more informed council by the time we vote.”

Councilman Clayton Perry (D10) was the only council member who voted against the resolution in 2017. At the time, Perry had tried to call for a two-month delay to get more public input but only got support from Brockhouse.

“This seems like it’s happening all over again,” Perry said Monday, adding that he supports the delay until after the election. He would even prefer a vote on the climate plan to wait until after the new council takes office.

“They’re possibly going to be stuck with this plan in their new terms,” Perry said.

San Antonio environmental activists were mixed in their reactions. Briauna Barrera, a San Antonio-based organizer for the nonprofit consumer advocacy organization Public Citizen, said in a text message that she is “deeply disappointed by the delay,” but that she hopes it will give the City more time to strengthen its emissions reduction goals.

Mario Bravo, a Texas outreach specialist for the Environmental Defense Fund who is in a relationship with Sandoval, said in an email that “all of the recent data tells us that we need to move quickly to address climate change, but another month to allow for more community input isn’t a bad thing.

“The vote will still be held while our current members are in office, and that means that our same council members who voted for a resolution to meet the Paris Climate Agreement goals will have the opportunity to follow through on their commitment with this plan,” Bravo said.

Brendan Gibbons

Brendan Gibbons is a former senior reporter at the San Antonio Report. He serves as the assistant manager of the Greater Edwards Aquifer Alliance.