San Antonio officials are hoping to get more volunteers for two committees meant to guide the City as it makes good on its pledge to fight climate change. 

Applications are open for a 21-member Technical and Community Advisory Committee and the 11-member Climate Equity Advisory Committee. Both will meet regularly to discuss the specifics of how San Antonio will reduce its emissions and adapt to more intense heat waves, longer droughts, and more severe flooding. 

“It’s not enough that we just developed the plan, and I don’t think it’s enough to say we’re going to implement it without still tapping into stakeholder and community perspectives,” City Chief Sustainability Officer Doug Melnick said. 

The committees are meant to implement the Climate Action and Adaption Plan the City officially adopted in October after nearly two years of planning work. The plan calls for San Antonio to reduce its greenhouse gas emissions by 41 percent of 2016 levels by 2030 and by 100 percent by 2050. 

That would effectively mean no coal or natural gas in San Antonio’s energy mix and no fossil fuel-powered vehicles on local roads by 2050. The final version of the climate plan released January 2019 left many of the specifics vague after an initial version drew criticism from many local business interests.  

One steering committee and five technical working groups involving more than 80 volunteers guided that plan’s development. Melnick described the process as “intensive” with members having two-hour meetings once a month for almost two years. 

During the process, some committee members expressed frustration with the fast pace of the work and what topics they felt they were allowed to discuss. Some advocates for strong climate action were disappointed that the plan included no hard targets for shutting down CPS Energy’s remaining coal plant and natural gas plants. On the other side, the CEO of a century-old leading trade group representing San Antonio’s manufacturing sector pulled out of the steering committee, saying environmentalists were dominating the process.

DeeDee Belmares, a San Antonio climate justice organizer for consumer advocacy group Public Citizen who served on the climate plan steering committee, said she was struck by there being only a handful of women tapped to serve on it. For the future committees to be successful, the City should seek out applicants that represent elderly residents, youth, activists, working families, grassroots groups, neighborhood organizations, and others from diverse backgrounds, she said. 

“If you’re going to put good committees together to serve the community, it has to include people from all over San Antonio,” Belmares said. 

As of Wednesday, the City had received 42 applications for the Technical and Community Advisory Committee and 28 for the Climate Equity Advisory Committee, Melnick said. The community committee includes spaces reserved for representatives from CPS Energy, the San Antonio Water System, San Antonio River Authority, and Joint Base San Antonio, among others, he said. 

The new committees will meet four times a year for about two hours per meeting, Melnick said. Members will discuss issues like changes to local building codes to require disclosure of energy and water use, ordinances to allow buildings to be solar- and electric vehicle-ready, and the City’s efforts to clean up its municipal operations. 

He said the committees will have time to discuss anything they want, though officials will want them to not get “bogged down in the weeds of rehashing every strategy in the plan.”

Melnick, who previously worked in a similar municipal sustainability role in Albany, New York, acknowledged that the climate issue remains politically fraught in San Antonio. The City’s climate plan was the fourth or fifth such effort he’s worked on in local government.

“By the end you’re always tattered,” Melnick said. “It’s tough. But in the end, we came up with a good document.”

Brendan Gibbons is a former senior reporter at the San Antonio Report. He is an environmental journalist for Oil & Gas Watch.