Amid a groundswell of criticism, San Antonio has recently extended the timeline for revision and public comment on the draft of its Climate Action and Adaptation Plan, or CAAP. Unfortunately for San Antonio’s businesses and especially its poorest residents, any plan for the city to reach “carbon neutrality” by 2050 is bound to dramatically drive up the cost of living, increase taxes, and discourage entrepreneurship and business investment.
While the CAAP does have some worthy goals for disaster preparedness, the overwhelming emphasis is on reducing the city’s emissions of carbon dioxide. Indeed, it would be more accurate to call this plan the Carbon Reduction Action Plan—with a more fitting acronym—as reducing the city’s carbon emissions will have no effect on the global climate.
But even if we accept the heavily flawed “higher emissions scenarios” cited in the CAAP, the emissions reductions outlined in the Paris agreement would reduce global temperatures by only 0.17 degrees in 2100. Hardly a dent in the 10-degree increase that the CAAP says will occur.
The city seeks to achieve its carbon neutrality goal by two primary means. First is the electrification of not just the city’s vehicle fleet, but also of all private vehicles in the city. The plan calls for reducing vehicle miles traveled by “prioritizing the reduction of those traveled in single-occupancy vehicles,” pressuring people to give up their cars through regulations such as reducing the number of parking spaces and creating vehicle-free zones.
Despite the city’s bus ridership trending down, San Antonio wants to take other transportation options off the table. It will also require significant subsidizing of electric cars and charging infrastructure that low-income residents currently cannot afford. Much like the Green New Deal’s proposals for government regulation over nearly every aspect of our lives, San Antonio aims to restrict your freedom to drive where you want, when you want.
Furthermore, the plan would leave stranded the infrastructure just built to support VIA’s effort to power its entire fleet with Texas natural gas, a clean and efficient fuel source for heavy-duty vehicles.
The second plank requires CPS Energy to source 100 percent of its electricity from wind and solar. Georgetown has seen its purchased power costs rise 30% over the past three years and recently had to saddle its residents with an average increase of $12.82 per month to cover those costs. The average electric bill in Georgetown is now 51% higher than San Marcos, which maintained its diversified energy contracts with the LCRA.
The people who are hurt the most by these policies are exactly the people the city seeks to help: low-income residents and minority communities. A civil rights group is currently suing the California Air Resources Board, alleging in stark terms that some of the same policies proposed in the CAAP, including VMT reductions and “net zero” housing requirements, exacerbate poverty and disproportionally impact minority communities. Without significant wealth transfers and tax increases that will drive businesses to other cities, these policies will have the exact opposite effect of the CAAP’s high-minded emphasis on climate equity.
So, if not the CAAP, what can the city do to improve its environmental quality and help its poorest residents?
First, the city can allow more competition in its electricity market. Rather than use utility bills as a way to extract more money from its residents and to pursue infeasible renewable energy mandates, it should let its residents and the free market determine where their electricity comes from. Not only is the Texas electricity market dramatically reducing its emissions of pollutants that are actually harmful to human health, it has also reduced retail electricity prices over the past 10 yearsdespite the state’s incredible growth.
Second, the city can streamline permitting and reduce regulations that drive up housing costs, push residents further from the city core and places of business, and force them to drive more.
Our energy and transportation future will not be made by heavy-handed mandates and propping up failed technologies with costly subsidies under the false premise that we can reduce the rise in global temperatures. Our future will come from new ideas and technologies and the work of entrepreneurs operating in free and competitive markets.
The best way to become more “climate ready” is to champion the abundant, reliable and affordable energy that has powered the most prosperous age of humanity yet — improving our quality of life and reducing poverty. San Antonio can accomplish these goals by reducing government intervention and embracing free market policies.
This commentary originally appeared in the San Antonio Express-News on April 24, 2019.
Find more information on San Antonio’s plan or to submit your comments here.