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Texas Cities Set Goals to Fight Climate Change

Public Citizen News / November-December 2021

By Michael Coleman

This article appeared in the November/December 2021 edition of Public Citizen News. Download the full edition here.

Progressive climate change policies don’t come easy in a major oil and gas-producing state like Texas, but after years of advocacy, Public Citizen’s Texas office celebrated two significant milestones in September.

On Sept. 22, the Dallas City Council voted 13-2 to spend nearly $4 million to help meet goals established in the Dallas Comprehensive Environmental and Climate Action Plan it adopted last year. A week later, on Sept. 30, the Austin City Council voted 10-1 to adopt the Austin Climate Equity Plan, which puts the city on an ambitious path to curbing climate warming emissions. The plan further establishes Texas’ capital city as a national leader in battling the climate crisis.

In public meetings and behind the scenes, Public Citizen and other environmental advocates worked to establish both cities’ climate action blueprints.

“We’re very pleased that Austin and Dallas are showing commitment to the climate goals city leaders set out over the past few years,” said Adrian Shelley, director of Public Citizen’s Texas office. “We will continue to monitor progress and press for even more ambitious action to mitigate the climate crisis.”

The Austin Climate Equity Plan is the second iteration of a community-wide climate plan first established by the city in 2015. The Austin plan sets a new goal of reducing local climate pollution to net-zero by 2040, with a strong emphasis on cutting emissions by 2030. The plan also puts equity at the center of climate action in Austin to ensure that all residents – especially those most likely to be harmed by the climate crisis – have a role in implementing the plan.

In Dallas, the city council showed significant intent to implement its climate plan, adopting a budget that invests almost $4 million in air monitors, rooftop solar, bike lanes, urban agriculture and weatherization programs.

The initiatives by Dallas and Austin, the third and fourth largest cities in Texas, respectively, demonstrate that local policy makers recognize the risks of climate inaction. Houston and San Antonio, the first and second largest cities in the state, have also adopted plans to address the climate crisis at the municipal level. Cities around the globe are major contributors to climate change because of the massive greenhouse gas emissions produced by vehicles, buildings, and utilities. The United Nations has estimated that cities are responsible for 75% of global CO2 emissions.

In Dallas, the new 2022 budget includes:

  • $1 million for new air quality monitors;
  • $200,000 for an urban agriculture plan;
  • $1.5 million for rooftop solar for city facilities;
  • $400,000 for a new weatherization program;
  • $72,000 to plant new trees program; and
  • $700,000 for new bike lanes.

Shelley said now that Dallas has appropriated money to help meet the goal of net zero emissions by 2050, the city can – and should – do more.

“The city should follow the lead of other major cities and invest in additional clean electric vehicles,” Shelley says. “Every department within the City of Dallas should prioritize reducing harmful global warming emissions in purchasing decisions. This will be essential to achieve the climate plan’s 2050 goal.”

Austin has long been a national leader on climate action. The Austin City Council adopted the Austin Climate Protection Plan in 2007 and the Austin Community Climate Plan in 2015. The Community Climate Plan was considered bold when it was first adopted. It encompasses not just emissions that the city controls, but also all emissions from the Austin community. The plan contains more than 100 actions to slash emissions with a net-zero goal of 2050, or sooner if possible. Austin city leaders are pushing the city’s utility, Austin Energy, to transition to renewable energy.

With adoption of the Climate Equity Plan, Austin is emphasizing fairness in its implementation, as well as inclusion and participation in planning.

“This new plan was crafted with the understanding that all Austin residents should be able to participate in climate action,” said Kaiba White, Public Citizen’s energy and outreach specialist in Austin. “This is essential to the plan’s success.”

“But the plan’s vision will only become reality if city leaders, businesses, and individuals work together to implement it,” she said. “City budgets, policies, programs, practices, and habits must change to reflect the dire state of the climate crisis. We must be willing to listen to those who have been ignored or discriminated against in the past.”