ATTEND: SA’s Climate Plan Could Hide Tons of Emissions

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Frankie Orona of the Society of Native Nations speaking out last summer for a Climate Action Plan outside San Antonio City Council Chambers. Image: Vanessa Ramos

San Antonio is one of the last large cities in the United States to get serious about climate change. But a plan now being developed is wide-ranging and potentially very serious indeed.

More than 70 volunteers (PDF) in San Antonio have been appointed to help officials with the City of San Antonio, UTSA, CPS Energy, and Navigant Consulting chart a way forward through the increasingly violent weather that climate change portends—not to mention the expected social upheaval that comes with it.

This means two things: slashing local climate pollution to slow the pace (and ultimately reverse) global climate hazard. And it means transforming the city into one prepared to not only survive but thrive under unprecedented change.

Launched with strong community encouragement last summer under the leadership of Mayor Ron Nirenberg, the swirl of planning meetings only got underway a few months ago. (Watch all of the meetings here.)

Now a critical guiding document is on the verge of being adopted. Public input is needed.

Conversation on SATX Greenhouse Inventory
Wednesday, July 18
4:00 – 5:00pm
Office of Sustainability – 1400 S. Flores, Main Conference Room.
To RSVP or provide agenda suggestions, send an email to lisa.lin@sanantonio.gov.

The San Antonio Greenhouse Gas Inventory (embedded below) is intended to be a full accounting of all locally generated climate pollution. The numbers adopted will be used to plan the reductions intended to help keep global warming “well below 2°C above pre-industrial levels.”

That’s the level adopted by the non-binding international handshake known as the Paris Agreement (PDF), which San Antonio joined in spirit when Trump announced the official start of U.S. withdrawal. The president’s decision means the U.S. is not the only nation on earth not participating.

In San Antonio, the Climate Action & Adaptation Plan (CAAP), in many ways, continues the work of the City’s guiding-but-not-policy Sustainability Plan (PDF). A key difference being today’s push beyond talk of less politically charged terms like “sustainability” and “resilience” to attack climate change head on.

San Antonio is committing itself to eliminating the tens of millions of tons of heat-trapping carbon dioxide pouring out of its borders each year.

Or most of it. Or some. It depends.

The draft GHG Inventory asks how much CO2, methane, nitrous oxide, or hydroflourocarbons—key greenhouse gases responsible for regulating the earth’s climate—we are responsible for.

The inventories out for public comment through the end of July suggest it’s somewhere between 16 million and 18 million tons per year. Well below our actual emissions.

[Submit your comments here.]

At a recent meeting of the steering committee of the Climate Action & Adaptation Plan, however, it became apparent quickly there is considerable debate about those numbers.

Watch it in full. Or skip ahead to 1.5 hour mark or so for start of conversation on these issues:

More than a third of the 11.3 million tons of CO2 equivalent pumped out by City-owned CPS Energy—4.3 million tons—are being discounted because, although the pollution is produced here, the electricity is sold outside the city limits.

Likewise, most of the emissions from heavy industry—include key climate villains, the cement kilns—get virtually a free pass.

According to a dispatch from Brendan Gibbons at the Rivard Report, sources at the City of San Antonio, CPS Energy, and Navigant leaders say the are only counting the emissions related to the electricity these plants use to fire their processes—not the hundreds of thousands of tons of emissions that comes out of the kilns themselves—because they were having “difficulty of obtaining comprehensive data for these sources.”

One suggestion: Start with the U.S. Environment Protection Agency’s Greenhouse Gas Inventory.

Based on these numbers, it’s clear that Alamo and Capitol Cement are the fourth and fifth largest climate polluters in the city. Alamo pumped out 827,666 tons of climate pollution in 2016 and Capitol followed with 483,828 tons per year, according to the EPA.

“Data availability issues” is why the CAAP leaders decided to use the less-strenuous BASIC accounting rather than the BASIC+ reporting level, which would have included “emissions from industrial process, agriculture, and transboundary transportation,” according to CAAP documents.

Another problem has to do with how the potent greenhouse gas methane (ie. natural gas) is measured. The fracking, flaring, and transport required to to deliver the gas to the city are not taken into account—only what is combusted, flared, and leaked inside city limits. (CPS Energy reports that they leak 1,100 tons of methane per year.)

[See: “San Antonio’s 15 Worst Polluters.”]

To comply with what has become standard reporting procedure for other other cities, this potent gas is being calculated as 28 times as powerful as CO2 instead of 84 times as potent, the difference between methane’s heat-trapping power when recorded over 100 years versus 20 years. This, we’re told, is necessary to compare “apples to apples” with other national and international plans.

But does it capture the climate impact we’re having today as the whole climate mess “spins out of control“?

Additional justifications for these modified local targets offered at the steering committee this last week included the fact that this is our first plan. That there will be plenty of updates that may get more ambitious. That we need a plan we can implement—one that we can both sell to the public and muscle past a couple reluctant council members, if need be.

These points are all worthy of discussion. Consider this Wednesday’s public meeting and solicitation of online comments your opportunity to press for the baseline numbers you think are most appropriate.

It should be understood, however, that if we are not going to take our full emissions into account, we will not hit our target, no matter what we enter into the spreadsheets. If Capitol Cement and CPS Energy don’t carry their fair share, our families and neighbors will experience that much more pressure to make up the difference. That is, if we actually intend to meet our responsibility in helping stabilize the planet’s life-support systems.

Wednesday, July 18, was originally intended to be the date the City closed public comments on the GHG Inventory, after a short two-week un-publicized window. With some encouragement, however, the CAAP leadership, DBA SA Climate Ready, has agreed to dedicate the CAAP’s monthly open meeting to the greenhouse inventory.

So come out to the first and only public meeting dedicated to the inventory to discuss what it means for our city and its first climate planning process.

Ask questions. Bring direction and encouragement.

Help make this plan one that serves all of our families, both here at home and around the world.

Conversation on SATX Greenhouse Inventory
Wednesday, July 18
4:00 – 5:00pm
Office of Sustainability – 1400 S. Flores, Main Conference Room.
To RSVP or provide agenda suggestions, send an email to lisa.lin@sanantonio.gov.

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