Almost all San Antonio City Council members were supportive of the latest draft of the proposed Climate Action and Adaption Plan as they reviewed it on Wednesday, but some had lingering questions about how quickly the City can implement real actions if the plan is approved.
City Council will vote on whether to adopt the policy framework on Oct. 17.
The plan would be the City’s first policy framework specifically aimed at mitigating climate change by reducing greenhouse gas emissions that cause global warming while dealing with its impacts. Some observers say the plan isn’t aggressive enough to have an impact, while others say it could unduly stunt the city’s economy.
“It’s very clear that this is not just a moral imperative but it’s also an economically prudent thing for us to do in order to create a more sustainable and resilient community,” Mayor Ron Nirenberg said.
Revisions to the first draft of the plan, which originally came out in January, were made in response to concerns from business and energy industry stakeholders. That caused a delay in the adoption of the plan, but Nirenberg said it also allowed for more stakeholders to have their voices heard. Plan writers softened targets to reduce fossil fuel use and changed other language but maintained the overall goal of going carbon-neutral by 2050. But what’s left, some environmentalists have said, is an ineffective, largely symbolic document.
Councilman Clayton Perry (D10), who in 2017 cast the one vote against a resolution to support the international Paris Agreement to combat climate change, said the plan represents an overreach of government.
The plan itself does not contain new regulations, but it lays the groundwork for rules that will come before the Council over the next decades, Nirenberg said.
“The decisions that we make [during] implementation are going to get incrementally harder,” he said. “Buckle in, it’s going to get a lot harder.”
Each measure will go through its own cost-benefit analysis and public process, he said. That analysis will include “the cost of not doing what’s suggested.”
Some of the possible short-term implementation strategies include establishing working groups, implementing a tracking tool for projects, and looking into things like energy-efficient building codes, a transition to an electric vehicle fleet, and participation in federal Property Assessed Clean Energy (PACE) financing programs for energy efficiency and renewable energy improvements on private property.
“There’s a lot in this plan that we’re already doing,” Melnick said, as many energy efficiency tools save residents and companies money. “[Sometimes] it’s not about addressing climate change, but it’s about improving your bottom line.”
Since the second draft was distributed in August, several governmental entities have endorsed the plan, including VIA Metropolitan Transit, the San Antonio River Authority, San Antonio Water System, and CPS Energy.
But CPS Energy’s own Flexible Path plan conflicts with the 2050 carbon-neutrality goal. The energy utility would get half its power from renewables by 2042, according to the plan, but the utility expects it will be burning coal and natural gas into the 2060s.
Perry has said he is not convinced climate change is caused by human activity and he again criticized the climate plan for not including price tags associated with goals. The first version had vague high-medium-low cost estimates that he also found insufficient.
City staff looked at the climate action plans of 31 U.S. cities and found that only five used cost estimates with ranges of figures. The other 26 did not include cost estimates.
“You need to be cautious when you start to publish numbers on plans, just because there are so many unknowns,” the City’s Chief Sustainability Officer Doug Melnick said of the office’s research. “[However] we don’t want to shy away from cost.”
Perry said he’s concerned that the major local chambers of commerce haven’t fully endorsed the plan.
“[Companies] see potential increases to their cost of doing business here in this city,” Perry said.
The West San Antonio Chamber of Commerce’s board endorsed the plan soon after it was released in August.
Councilwoman Ana Sandoval (D7) praised the plan as a fulfillment of Council’s “duty for us to protect our residents and protect their property.” Sandoval suggested that it should reaffirm what a previous sustainability plan called Mission Verde, developed in 2009 under then-Mayor Phil Hardberger, including green jobs, technology, and economic initiatives.
“Unfortunately that plan did stay on the shelf,” Sandoval said. “That will not happen with this plan.”