Two lively meetings on San Antonio’s proposed climate plan have yielded plenty of dialogue and even more questions about what the City’s next moves on the plan will be.
A City public meeting on Tuesday at the San Antonio Public Library followed a CPS Energy hearing about the plan on Monday. The room on Tuesday was packed with roughly 100 people. Instead of having attendees get up one-by-one to speak into a microphone, City staff had them gather around a dozen or so circular tables to talk face-to-face.
The specifics of their conversations bounced around seemingly every topic regarding the environment, from buses to buildings and from water to waste disposal. But overall, everyone interested in the plan seems to be grappling with one central question: What specifically does it mean for a city like San Antonio to take on climate change?
The plan has proposed a slew of adaptation strategies to deal with the issue along with the more controversial ideas to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, such as eliminating coal and natural gas from CPS Energy’s portfolio and having no gas- or diesel-powered vehicles on the road by 2050.
“This is really just a framework,” Councilwoman Ana Sandoval (D7) said. “We don’t know what the final form of these programs will take at this point in time. All we’re saying is, for instance, we know that electric vehicles will allow us to reduce emissions from gas-powered vehicles.”
Sandoval, a proponent of the climate plan with experience working on air quality issues, said she doubts there will be an ordinance saying, for example, that businesses are only allowed to sell electric vehicles in San Antonio.
“It could be some sort of incentive program,” she said. “It could mean that we make charging your vehicles so easy that that’s what people would want to do instead of buying a gas-powered vehicle.”
These are the levels of detail that San Antonio Chamber of Commerce President and CEO Richard Perez said his thousands of business members and the community at large need to know.
“There’s not a lot of detail [in the plan],” he said. “There’s not any costs associated with being carbon-neutral by 2050. … So if I’m a trucking company, what does that actually mean to me to be carbon-neutral by 2050?”
Perez added that many businesses in San Antonio “are very much thoughtful about the environment and are doing all they can, like all of us are, to protect the environment.”
Likely heeding a call for more time to talk about the plan, City officials have extended the comment period on the plan beyond the original Feb. 24 date to an as-yet-undetermined time, City Chief Sustainability Officer Doug Melnick said at the meeting.
However, the plan is scheduled to go before the City’s Planning Commission on Feb. 27 and March 13, according to the SA Climate Ready website. City Council is scheduled to discuss it at its April 3 B Session meeting and vote on the plan on April 11.
That puts the plan up for a vote ahead of the May 4 municipal election. It means the same council members who voted 9-1 in 2017 on a resolution to support the goals of the international Paris Agreement would vote on more specific language about what that would entail.
“We do not want the plan extended past the local elections because that could very much alter the momentum,” said Briauna Barrera, a San Antonio organizer with environmental and consumer advocacy group Public Citizen. “We want this plan to be voted on.
“It was this mayor, this council that said, ‘Hey, we’re going to start this process,’” Barrera continued. “We want this same council, this same mayor to vote on it.”
Sandoval said she would only support specific measures proposed in the plan “that are going to give us multiple benefits.”
“Even if something reduces a lot of greenhouse gases, if it’s not adding to our community in another way, then it’s not as high-priority,” she said. “Is it going to make air healthier for us to breathe? Is it going to make quality of life better? Is it going to give people additional transportation options?”
She added that council members should take on the issue of climate change “because it’s about being responsible for natural resources.”
“We want to make sure that there’s something for our children and our grandchildren,” she said. “It’s not just about today.”