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TAKE ACTION: Attend First SA Climate Ready Committees Meeting

CAAP buildings committee members
Members of the Climate Action & Adaptation Plan’s Energy & Buildings Technical Working Group, led by Navigant Consulting’s Danielle Vitoff (center), discuss energy-reduction strategies at a meeting in Aug 2018. Image: Greg Harman

After a two-year odyssey creating San Antonio’s Climate Action and Adaptation Plan—political delays in adoption, followed by a year of silence—the SA Climate Ready’s new committees are finally assembling and seeking community input.

On Tuesday night, two committees charged with guiding City climate policies in the years ahead will meet for the first time. The moment is a long time coming. In 2017, following Donald Trump’s decision to withdraw from the international Paris climate agreement, community members mobilized in numbers to demand local action. Mayor Ron Nirenberg and the City Council adopted a resolution (PDF) pledging to meet our climate obligations in spite of a dangerous federal policy retreat. And they put the development of a climate plan in motion.

Inaugural SA Climate Ready Meeting
6pm Tuesday, November 17, 2020
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Telephone: 1-415-655-0001
Code: 177 275 7102

If there is one overarching lesson from the evolution of the climate action plan to date, it is that community pressure has yet to motivate our elected leadership to prioritize the empowerment and protection of our communities in an age of climate crisis. Big Money interests tied to fossil-fuel-driven growth remain implacable—even in the face of global pandemic and collapse of the biosphere. So now as SA Climate Ready lifts off, we encourage everyone committed to a community-driven, authentic, and aggressive climate response to register to speak at the Tuesday night meeting. (You may also email or phone in your comments in advance and they will be read into the record. See full instructions in the embedded PDF below.)

Now a bit of history for new arrivals in this work.

The first draft of the Climate Action and Adaptation Plan in early 2019 came under heavy attack from multiple points.

Many planning members didn’t see evidence of their work in the draft plan. Those seeking tougher carbon-reduction deadlines and a “due by” date for San Antonio’s last remaining coal plant were disappointed on both counts. And the various chambers of commerce balked at poorly illustrated lists of policy recommendations marked by intimidating dollar signs—signs that could and should have been offset by certain obvious economic returns on investment (starting with the value of a habitable city, perhaps?).

However, as the debate rumbled along, another City election came into view, with an incumbent Mayor Nirenberg facing a stiff challenge from then-Councilmember Greg Brockhouse—a dedicated freemarketeer and climate skeptic who pledged to completely unwind the climate project. As a result, Nirenberg deferred a vote on the plan until after the election. CPS Energy and key business interests then won somewhat symbolic victories in plan rewrites made ahead of an October vote (See: “Mayor Punts on San Antonio’s Climate Plan.”)

In spite of the range of disappointments in the final version, adopted 10-1 in October 2019 (PDF), opponents (and many supporters) missed one key change: The pathway to net-zero climate emissions by 2050 was now joined by important interim 2030 and a 2040 deadlines. What that means, in practical terms—if residents shepherd this work closely, and the powers that be are forced to comply—is that we’ll reduce our emissions by half in the next nine years.

It’s been over a year since the CAAP was adopted, and there’s scant evidence this new framing of fundamental community values has been consulted in any of the COVID-19 recovery work to date. But now, at last, we at least see visible forward motion.

The SA Climate Ready advisory committees are meeting. While the CAAP planning process involved roughly 90 volunteers from across San Antonio, the selection committee, including Doug Melnick, chief sustainability officer at the City’s Office of Sustainability, and Councilmembers Ana Sandoval (D7) and Jada Andrews-Sullivan (D2), reduced that menagerie to a workable number: 23 on a Technical & Community Advisory Committee (up from 21 with late inclusion of dedicated seats for the automotive and oil and gas sectors) and 10 on a Climate Equity Advisory Committee.

According to an internal member agenda (PDF), one of the goals of the inaugural meeting is to start identifying priorities for future quarterly meetings.

This is where the public comments come in. As the Recall CPS canvassers collecting signatures to put the 1300MW Spruce coal plant on next year’s ballot understand, getting off of coal by 2030 is non-negotiable. We must also make sure that the work of these committees is in line with the urgency of the moment, informed by consensus climate science, and deeply grounded in equity. And it must actually then guide City policy in the near term, not be collected, collated, and held for action in some future time.

Here are instructions to have your comments included in this inaugural meeting.

Few of the new Technical & Community Advisory Committee members are veterans of the two-year CAAP work. In practice, this necessitates getting many up to speed. The influx of new participants also potentially sidesteps some of the problematic residue of that lengthy earlier process. By comparison, roughly half of those on the Equity Committee served on the CAAP and well aware how a single toxic committee member can hold up progress until the very end.

Below is the line up of members. I’m including their places of work, not to suggest they are officially representing those employers (though some certainly will be), but to give an understanding of each member’s positioning within the ecology of San Antonio’s political universe. To see why each member wished to serve and what expertise they hope to provide, click on their name for a PDF copy of their original application.

Technical & Community Advisory Committee

Climate Equity Advisory Committee

All in all, the SA Climate Ready advisory committees feature many new members with important expertise in energy justice and public health, with solid community representation among those returning. Only time will tell if they will be able to guide implementation of the CAAP’s goals, including forcing CPS Energy to retire its coal plant, the region’s largest climate polluter, without which there is no way to cut our emissions to the degree pledged by 2030.

In this unprecedented moment of pandemic, our Council should be sensitized as never before to the need to put community health and wellbeing above all else. But it bears repeating that enthusiastic public engagement and oversight of this process—and agitation, when and where required—is necessary to force the work along ultimately productive pathways.

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