By: John Hall, Texas state director, clean energy, and Colin Leyden, senior manager, state regulatory & legislative affairs – natural gas. This post originally appeared on our Texas Clean Air Matters blog.
When it comes to clean air and clean energy, Texas cities – and their encompassing counties – know what’s good for them.
Bexar County includes the City of San Antonio and adjoining areas. By endorsing the plan, the broader San Antonio community joins Texas’ largest cities Houston and Dallas, whose mayors are also supporting the sensible, cost-effective clean air measure. (In fact, Houston and Dallas filed an amicus brief together with a large coalition of cities to support the Clean Power Plan in court).
All of this comes in the face of staunch opposition from Texas state leaders, who have used taxpayers’ money to sue the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) over these safeguards. Meanwhile, Bexar County Judge Nelson W. Wolff and commissioners passed the resolution unanimously, meaning members from both sides of the aisle put politics aside and voted for healthier air for our communities and families.
In addition to serving as a testament to bipartisan leadership on reducing climate-altering carbon emissions, Bexar County’s support for the Clean Power Plan is a reflection of San Antonio’s clean energy leadership and could help the city meet our nation’s health-based ground-level ozone (more commonly known as smog) standard.
San Antonio climbing clean energy ranks
Since the Clean Power Plan will encourage investment in cleaner energy sources, it should come as no surprise that San Antonio’s Bexar County backs the effort – the city is already a leader in that area. San Antonio was recently ranked 7th in terms of solar energy capacity in the Shining Cities Report – the only Texas city to make the top 10. And that ranking didn’t even include the solar power that CPS Energy, San Antonio’s municipal utility that serves Bexar County, draws from outside city limits.
CPS has also taken a progressive approach to advancing the low-carbon energy future through its New Energy Economy initiative. Launched nearly five years ago, the program aims to increase the use of clean energy resources while investing in the economy of San Antonio. In order to focus on lower-carbon sources, the shift resulted in the decision to shut down a large coal-fired power plant by 2018, about 15 years earlier than expected. Additionally, the New Energy Economy plan encouraged clean energy and innovative technology companies to relocate to the city. As a result, partners like OCI Solar Power, Silver Spring Networks, and Landis+Gyr have landed in the Alamo City, creating more than 840 jobs and $947 million in annual economic impact.
Clean Power Plan will have clean air rewards for the children of Bexar County
San Antonio’s air quality has been at a tipping point for many years, with smog levels just narrowly hovering beneath national health-based standards. The standards, anchored in extensive medical studies, establish the acceptable smog concentrations to ensure healthy air quality, but recent air monitoring data show San Antonio is poised to be designated in “nonattainment” by October 2017. In other words, on many days the air pollution levels are unhealthy and the city and surrounding areas will most likely not meet the standards.
Fortunately, CPS Energy’s New Energy Economy efforts, in addition to reducing harmful carbon pollution, will contribute to San Antonio’s efforts to meet the health-based smog standard. That’s because coal-fired power plants generate substantial amounts of pollutants that lead to the creation of smog. Therefore, replacing power generated by coal plants with power from cleaner sources will lower carbon emissions and smog contributors. And that is very good news for Bexar County’s children, the elderly, and individuals with lung and heart diseases – populations facing serious health threats from unhealthy air.
With both the County Judge and city utility supporting the Clean Power Plan, San Antonio should be on a path to cleaner air. However, many ozone-causing pollutants are drifting from surrounding areas in the state. In fact, recent air quality modeling shows that on some bad air quality days, more than 60 percent of the smog can be attributed to outside sources – including emissions from nearby oil and gas development in the Eagle Ford shale. To address the region’s air quality challenges, perhaps the county commissioners’ bipartisan leadership on clean energy can be an effective voice in urging state leaders to put in place polices that would incentivize surrounding areas to reduce their contribution. It will take many different strategies to reduce smog levels in Bexar County and a truly regional approach will be needed.
It makes sense for Texas to embrace the Clean Power Plan: The plan will maximize our state’s plentiful clean energy resources, leading to public health benefits and water savings. City Council member Ray Lopez put it best when he said, “We know here in San Antonio that clean power means clean air, a healthy planet, and a strong economy.” While our state decision-makers use our hard-earned taxpayer dollars to obstruct clean air safeguards, our cities are leading the way in protecting our communities and families from unhealthy air pollution and forging a strong clean energy economy.