San Antonio’s proposed climate plan is both too hot and too cold for the D8 Councilman’s taste. But taste doesn’t seem to be the issue.
Councilman Manny Pelaez has positioned himself as a strong opponent to the City’s proposed Climate Action & Adaptation Plan (CAAP).
“Just to be absolutely clear, if this were to come up for a vote today, I’d vote no on it, for a whole host of reasons,” he said at a February Community Health & Equity Committee meeting. “I’d rather get this done right than get it done fast.”
In public session, he speaks of the fears of oil, gas, and automotive interests.
“You have to remember that for me the difficulty is that in my district my three largest employers happen to be the United States Automobile Association … Valero, and NuStar,” he told fellow councilmembers and Doug Melnick, the City’s chief sustainability officer. “I know for a fact that you don’t have buy-in from my, from those three big employers. For whatever reasons. You just don’t.”
“I’m also very sensitive to the comments from our business community, who keep asking, you know, ‘What’s this going to cost?'”
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For the most vigorous opponents of the CAAP, be they officials at the San Antonio Chamber of Commerce, SA Manufacturers Association, Valero Energy, or councilmembers like Pelaez and Greg Brockhouse, the CAAP is a multi billion-dollar plan threatening to upend the City of San Antonio’s entire economy by setting a city-wide goal of 2050 for the elimination of local greenhouse gas emissions helping drive global warming.
And what if the plan doesn’t actually have a cost?
In a recent call, Pelaez said he’d still oppose the CAAP. When understood properly as an opening salvo on climate action, setting a carbon-reduction target with specific policies to be determined by this and future councils, the plan fails at the other end of his tolerance.
“This is not what I ran on,” he said. “I was not elected to do symbolism.”
So what will it take to gain his support?
Pelaez insists it is not for him to say. Instead, it’s for Office of Sustainability Director Doug Melnick to sell it to him.
But, it would seem, Melnick can save his breath.
Email and text messages released to Deceleration under a Texas Public Information Act request reveal that Pelaez has already pledged his vote to Valero Energy.
As Pelaez writes in an email to Valero Energy Board Chairman, President, and CEO Joe “Most Overpaid” Gorder and Executive VP and General Counsel Jason Fraser:
“Again, thanks for lunch and for taking the time to visit with me about your concerns. As I told you, the CAAP does not have my support unless significant improvements are made to it and until I hear that Valero, NuStar, Toyota, HEB, Frost, Ancira, etc can support it.”
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The email was provided with the ‘i’s’ and ‘l’s’ redacted, so we have to do some interpretive recreation here.
Undoubtedly, Valero and NuStar, like oil and gas (and o&g service) companies around the world, are in a bind.
The product they sell, while still powering most of the global economy, are beginning to lose dominance. They are also responsible for destabilizing the planet’s climate system to a potentially irreparable degree. That is: As charitable (and massively subsidized) as these celebrated employers are, they are literally killing us.
In response to this reality, the vast majority of the world’s governments have ratified the Paris Agreement and publicly committed to rapidly transition to renewable energies like wind and solar. Some are already bumping against 100 percent renewable power:
- Germany’s 2050 goal of generating 80% of its power from renewables by 2050 was met briefly in 2010. (Nature)
- A global solar leader, China is planning a space-based solar collector they promise will supply “inexhaustible clean energy.” (Forbes)
- Costa Rica is closing in on its goal of powering the country with 100 percent clean energy, is hitting 98 percent year after year. (Weather Channel)
While San Antonio’s current Council voted to stand by the goals and principles of the Paris Agreement in June 2017, Mayor Ron Nirenberg announced yesterday that it will not vote on the CAAP until this fall.
Yet, despite the political resistance to the CAAP, the discussion at San Antonio’s City-owned utility circle around low-carbon sources, even if its leadership stubbornly seeks to hold on to existing baseload generators like the South Texas Project nuclear complex and JK Spruce coal plant.
City-owned CPS Energy has projected approaching one-third renewable energy in the 2040s (the “Flex Gen” generation represented above has been described by CEO Paula Gold-Williams as coming from a technology yet to be developed, which a colleague of mine described as “fairy dust”). The draft CAAP commits to reach 100 percent clean energy by 2050. Climate Action SA, a coalition of organizations of which Deceleration is a member, is calling on our mayor and council to bump that up a decade, with a net-zero target of 2040.
While international oil companies like BP are investing in renewable energy, with predictions that clean energy will be the fastest-growing energy source on earth through the 2040s and penetrate the world’s energy system “more quickly than any fuel in history,” Valero’s taste for other alternative energy options is mostly limited to ethanol.
It has strongly resisted the CAAP. Brian Donovan, the executive director of public policy at Valero, has claimed the plan will cost $14 billion within 10 years (despite the fact the CAAP holds no policy mandates beyond the 2050 goal).
Valero’s sublimated fears as a local representation of an eclipsing energy sector may be blended with anger over a sense of hometown insult.
“In a city in which [Valero has] invested billions and which they are a major help in solving the homelessness problem,” Pelaez said, “it makes it difficult to explain to their employees, you know, thanks for making San Antonio great again, here’s a plan that completely discounts all your efforts. Um. I’m sensitive to that. I have to be sensitive to that because they are my constituents.”
But the real question for Council isn’t about hurt feelings or the inevitable obsolescence of some currently influential power brokers. The real question is about what our economy will look like 10 or 20 years from today. And it is, more critically, about the urgent action required to counter rapidly escalating warming.
Pelaez is sharp. The attorney can argue effusively and effectively from multiple points of CAAP resistance while not closing the door on the initiative completely. And he can playfully toss back the objections of some business leaders, such as when he relates in that February meeting: “I say, ‘Tell me what page offends you the most of this climate adaptation plan?’ And then they’ll break down and tell me, ‘Well, I’ve never read it.’ But they’re still very offended because they know it’s full of hippie stuff.”
At one point in our interview, he challenges the CAAP’s authors for including carbon capture in its list of potential future policy responses when the technology has not been built out to a point it can play a part in global carbon reductions. He likened carbon capture to banking on “unicorns to come suck up all the carbon from the air.”
But doesn’t he, a self-described believer the mainstream consensus science on global warming that urges a rapid, global shift away from fossil fuels, feel an urgency to act?
“Yeah,” he says. “Sure.”
So far, San Antonio’s business community has embraced CPS’s “fairy dust” while violently resisting the CAAP’s “unicorns.” To be seen is what sort of magic Mayor Nirenberg can work between now and the the fall. Ideally, he and key CAAP champions like Councilmember Ana Sandoval can boil these intangibles together. Ideally, this solution can both overcomes the current resistance while strengthening the current plan where it falls short to stay in line with the urgency being expressed by the scientific community.
Hopefully by then Pelaez will be ready to partake.
This is the second installment in a evolving series of articles exploring the history of the city’s climate plan development and the campaign to dismantle it.