City's Climate Plan Needs to Consider Natural Gas

Sun, March 03, 2019

Original Article - Kevin Wolff, San Antonio Express News

The city of San Antonio recently released its Climate Action and Adaptation Plan with the intention of “ensuring San Antonio remains a healthy, vibrant place for generations to come.”

I believe the city’s intentions are good — and I think everyone agrees we need to be considering the quality of our air. This plan, however, is shortsighted at best.

This plan calls for the replacement of some of our most cost-effective and clean energy sources with some of the most expensive ones. Thanks to natural gas, the price CPS Energy customers pay for electricity is nearly 11 percent less than the national average. And in the state of Texas, CPS rates are among the lowest in the state.

We don’t need to make it harder for folks to pay their utility bills.

In September, Texans for Natural Gas released a report detailing how the Eagle Ford Shale in particular is delivering economic and environmental benefits to San Antonio and all of South Texas. Key findings included that more than 23,000 jobs in Bexar County were supported by the industry, generating $1.1 billion in payroll impacts.

For those keeping score at home, the oil and gas industry directly employs more than 325,000 people in our state. This doesn’t include industries that aren’t directly associated with oil and gas but rely on their product. And in fiscal year 2017, Texas school districts received $1.1 billion from taxes associated with the industry.

But I recognize it isn’t just the economics that should be taken into account. The same report found that natural gas helped San Antonio reduce its ozone levels by 20 percent since 2003. In an address a few weeks ago to local business leaders, Gov. Greg Abbott noted that, “even with increased oil and gas production, Texas decreased nitrogen oxide levels by 45 percent between 2005 and 2017 … equal to taking 85 million passenger cars off the roads.”

I was also struck by the governor’s comment that thanks to natural gas production and new liquefied natural gas, or LNG, export facilities, Texas is helping economies across the globe wean themselves off coal and instead use the natural gas produced right here in Texas.

Furthermore, according to the Alamo Area Council of Governments, some of our city’s top experts on air quality and climate change, oil and gas only accounts for 5.5 percent of the local emissions that contribute to ozone formation in the San Antonio-New Braunfels metro region.

We so often hear the phrase that “all politics are local.” And they should be. Local governments are the ones most in tune with their constituents. What this plan didn’t do was take into account its viability for those very constituents.

What it didn’t do was take into account the impact it would have on an industry that is crucial to the economic success of our city and state.

What this plan didn’t do was ask what is already being done and is continuing to be done by the oil and gas industry to ensure that our air is cleaner tomorrow than it is today.

It is my hope that until these things are further studied, the mayor and City Council delay any action. This is especially important in light of Connect SA, the city’s future transportation plan, as it calls for dedicated right of way for LNG-powered mass transportation.

The bottom line is this: It’s one thing to take a utopian viewpoint of environmental protection, but to do that at the expense of our economic infrastructure is foolish and shortsighted. Government, be it local or otherwise, enforcing its political will on the open market is wrong.

Instead of “removing the rug” from underneath the oil and gas industry, we should be asking how we can support its efforts to address air quality. Doing anything else leads to overregulation, resulting in a failed process and unnecessary burden.

Kevin Wolff is the Bexar County commissioner for Precinct 3.