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San Antonio City Officials Must Make Sure CPS Takes the Climate Plan Seriously 

click to enlarge RHYMA CASTILLO
  • Rhyma Castillo
Editor’s Note: The following is City Current, a column of opinion and analysis.

CPS wasn’t exactly an eager participant in the two years of public input that forged San Antonio’s Climate Action & Adaptation Plan, or CAAP.

According to multiple people involved in the process, officials from the city-owned utility kept to the back of the room during meetings, observing and taking notes as others engaged in a robust discussion about how to best protect our city from the ravages of climate change.

Instead, CPS chose to lobby behind the scenes, calling for city staff to scrub language in the plan demanding specific reductions in fossil fuels such as coal and natural gas. In April, utility CEO Paula Gold-Williams submitted a letter to city officials laying out her opposition in detail.

Participants on in CAAP’s public input process were unaware of the letter until days before CPS’s board — chaired by former real estate developer Ed Kelley — cast a vote in August to approve a toned-down version of the resolution.

When the city passed the CAAP last week, Mayor Ron Nirenberg and other members of city council hailed it as a significant step toward addressing climate issues already affecting constituents.

“We’re in the midst of a climate crisis,” said Mayor Nirenberg, who made the CAAP a centerpiece of his run for a second term. “We don’t need to imagine what climate change will look like here in San Antonio, it’s already being felt.”

If Nirenberg and other city leaders are serious about the CAAP being more than a symbolic gesture, they should demand CPS prove itself a willing participant and demonstrate the concrete steps that can speed the closure of the dirty Spruce 1 and 2 coal plants, which the utility could keep in operation until 2060.

The city also could force CPS to take climate commitments more seriously by tying its executive compensation renewable energy goals. What’s more, there’s a case to be made for expanding the utility’s board to include environmental advocates and neighborhood representatives.

Under Gold-Williams, CPS has argued that its so-called Flexible Path strategy, which includes energy from both renewable sources and fossil fuels, keeps bills low to protect its most vulnerable customers.

But the reality is those same vulnerable customers are affected by fossil fuel emissions that heighten their risk of asthma and other diseases. The rising temperatures the CAAP seeks to alleviate also likely to pose the biggest risks to low-income residents who do physical labor outside or live in housing without air conditioning.

Latinx and black populations bear an average “pollution burden” of 63% and 56% percent, respectively, related to their exposure to pollution, according to Dr. Adelita Cantu, an associate professor at the UT Health San Antonio School of Nursing.

CPS has demonstrated that it can make significant strides on clean energy. Thanks to investments in solar under prior CEO Doyle Beneby, San Antonio is now the top-ranked city in Texas for solar capacity and one of the top 10 in the nation.

If CPS is unwilling to leave behind its Flexible Path and get back on the one Beneby started, the city and its citizens should demand that the utility’s current leadership hit the road.

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