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Dallas passed a weak climate plan, we want more

May 27, 2020 Dallas People’s Climate Coalition

Dallas City Council unanimously passed the Comprehensive Environmental and Climate Action Plan (CECAP), despite a diverse coalition and many speakers who raised concerns about it. 

Mayor Johnson and Dallas Council Members agreed that the climate plan falls short of the original goals set out by the City Council in 2019. However, they decided passing the plan would be better than addressing its shortcomings.

Coalition members of the Dallas People’s Climate Coalition raised concerns that the plan might actually do more harm than good, and that much work would need to be done to establish bolder actions and timelines. For example, coalition members pointed out that the plan rolls back prior commitments on waste reduction targets, and deputy director Susan Alvarez even said that enforcement “is not planned until 2030.”

Participants and organizations from the Dallas People’s Climate Coalition include Texas Campaign for the Environment, Democratic Socialists of America North Texas, Sunrise Movement Dallas, Grow North Texas, Veterans for Peace, Texas New Era/Jobs With Justice, North Texas Transit Riders, Dallas Green Alliance, Poor People’s Campaign, Young Active Labor Leaders, Texas Drought Project, and Our Revolution Dallas.

The coalition says city officials need to commit to stronger actions like phasing out the use of gas in buildings, investing in renewable energy, and removing barriers to public transportation. Advocates are calling on city officials to support actions they have offered in an alternative plan that they say will eliminate carbon emissions with a greater focus on equity and a just transition to a green future.

Coalition advocates say that virtually everyone familiar with the city’s climate plan agrees that it doesn’t do enough to address carbon emissions, but they are just the most outspoken.

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Initial read of latest Dallas Climate Plan draft shows few improvements, possibly fudged numbers

April 23, 2020 Sunrise Movement Dallas

The revised Dallas Comprehensive Environmental and Climate Action Plan (CECAP) falls far short of taking bold, swift action on climate change. Here are our initial takeaways from a few hours of reading the 220 page document.

The city strengthened some language in the plan. For example, it committed to “pursue” rather than “consider” carbon accreditation for the Dallas Executive Airport. The city also added more educational or advocacy campaigns for submetering buildings, vehicle electrification for residents, and greening the electrical grid.

This type of incrementalism won’t get us to a livable future. In fact, it ensures the opposite. We need decisive action to ensure our community stays safe, now. Here’s a deep dive on our findings.

WE NEED REAL ACTION, NOT FUDGED NUMBERS – It looks like this draft of the plan shows greater emissions reductions because of modeling assumptions rather than strengthened action. This is based on a close reading of the plan’s actions and emissions assumptions (pages 29 and 30). While the plan itself changed very little, the city added assumptions about vehicle fuel efficiency and customer purchases of renewable energy plans to boost emissions reductions numbers.

(Note: We are seeking clarification about this item).

WE NEED A PLAN WRITTEN BY PEOPLE, NOT POLLUTERS – Instead of eliminating natural gas hookups (in action B6), the city weakened this action by eliminating language about electrifying the largest natural gas consumers quickly and no longer mentions carbon “lock-in” from continuing to use natural gas. On the city’s online forum, 12 of the 21 comments for this action called for eliminating gas hookups in new construction and received over 100 positive reactions. No comments suggested weakening this action. However, we do know that Atmos Energy (natual gas monopoly) lobbyists made their rounds at City Hall during the week of the last CECAP stakeholder meeting. They even showed up to the meeting uninvited to put fossil fuel profits over people.

CLIMATE CHANGE IS HAPPENING NOW. ACT LIKE IT – Instead of electrifying its vehicle fleet sooner than 2030, the city changed the language on this action from “aiming” to make new vehicles electric to “ensuring” new vehicles would be electric in 2030. The city added an action about doing electric vehicle education, but didn’t take the lead on transitioning its own fleet before 2030. Ultimately, this misses the point. 2030 is too late. Without swifter action, our homes will be subject to more extreme weather, flooding, and air pollution. 11 of the 21 public comments about this action supported a quicker timeline for electric vehicles and received 75% of all positive reactions among all comments.

Similarly, people requested the city require buildings to reach zero net pollution sooner than 2030. Instead, language in action B12 was weakened by removing verbiage about polluting fossil fuels and transitioning away from natural gas. 5 of the 12 comments on the online forum for this action, which received a large share of all positive reactions, suggested moving this timeline up. No comments suggested weakening this action as it was. We have to wonder what behind the scenes conversations Atmos Energy and other lobbyists were having.

Even worse, the city reduced its target for electric vehicle charging stations down from 9,000 to 1,500 by 2030 in its latest draft. There is no explanation for this on the public forum on action T4 (the most directly related action). 4 of 10 comments on the forum requested an interim target of 4,500 charging stations by 2025 and received 63% of all positive reactions among all comments. No interim target was added.

GIVE YOUNG PEOPLE A REAL VOICE IN OUR FUTURE – There are no guarantees about continued accountability and transparency. Instead of creating a commission to support resident communication, input, and accountability for the life of a 30-year plan, the city added one sentence in its 222 page document saying it will create an advisory committee for CECAP implementation. The document included no specifics, details, or principles about this committee.

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Climate Plan Goes Backwards on Waste Reduction

April 22, 2020

Kevin Richardson, Texas Campaign for the Environment

In its environmental plan released on Earth Day, Dallas touts a bold promise to become a “Zero Waste City.” Unfortunately, the plan does even less for reducing trash than what they promised seven years ago.

Dallas passed a Zero Waste Plan in 2013 with goals to reduce landfill waste by 60% in 2030 and 85% in 2040. Now, in the new Climate Plan the city has rolled back its goals to only 35% by 2030 and is crossing its fingers it can hit 45% by 2040. 

Apparently Dallas is good at reducing its target goals, not waste.

McCommas Bluff Landfill, where the city trash goes, takes in over two million tons of waste per year. The landfill sits across the street from Shingle Mountain, where enormous piles of toxic roofing shingles have gone unaddressed. If we don’t get serious about waste, our city will be creating mountains of trash in mostly poor and minority communities. Meanwhile, plastic waste is killing our oceans.

The city promised to begin working on food waste and recycling policies years ago that should have been implemented by now. Instead, the city is planning to make more plans.

What we need is action, and we need it now.

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Diverse Coalition Counters City’s Climate Plan with a New Green Vision for Dallas

April 22, 2020 Press Release:

On the heels of the City of Dallas staff releasing the latest draft of its Comprehensive Environmental and Climate Action Plan (CECAP), a growing coalition of advocates released a “People’s Climate Action Plan,” putting forward a different vision for making Dallas a leader in addressing climate change. The coalition is calling for an online day of advocacy targeting the Mayor and City Council.

The coalition is comprised of broad interests, including local environmental, democratic socialist, advocacy, and labor groups. These groups say their plan better addresses issues like environmental justice, supporting working families, and resiliency in the food supply chain.

The coalition says its plan is important especially in light of the current pandemic crisis which has highlighted the need for stronger social support systems and public resources.

“Some lessons this pandemic teaches us about climate change are that we have the ability to make drastic changes very quickly,” said Molly Beyer with the Democratic Socialists of America North Texas Chapter, “The sooner we mobilize for action, the less suffering will take place. All of us are vulnerable to crisis, and we are only as strong as the most vulnerable among us.”

The Dallas People’s Climate Action Plan is accessible for review through a website. Meanwhile, the CECAP is expected to go to a city-council vote on May 27 and pass with strong support from the council. It is unclear how or whether public testimony will be allowed when the plan comes up for a vote.

Coalition members argue the CECAP does too little up front, focusing on incentive and education programs for the next few years, that will do little to actually mitigate climate change. 

“These are the most critical years to address climate change and we need strong action starting now.” said Hope Endrenyi with the Dallas Sunrise Movement. “Our plan presents ideas which would help us reach net zero greenhouse gas emissions. We hope the city will incorporate those ideas to reach this objective by 2050, a goal of theirs when they began developing the CECAP. 

“We need public investment in clean electric energy and to stop investing in dangerous and outdated fossil energy like the Atmos Energy gas system,” said Corey Troiani, local program director with Texas Campaign for the Environment.

“Many cities are taking the lead on making all new buildings fully electric, which is now cost effective and safer. Fracked gas isn’t safe for our air or water — it puts oilfield workers at risk and subjects them to boom and bust economic cycles. On top of economic volatility, gas pipelines in our communities increase exposure to harmful air pollution and risk of explosions and fires. There was a gas fire in Grand Prairie just last weekend, and a spate of explosions in the last few years that caused multiple injuries and death.”  

Atmos Energy, the monopoly operator of the city’s gas distribution system, has come under fire recently, after it was revealed that the company has largely neglected its pipeline infrastructure. The company is now seeking to hike the price of natural gas by 9.4% on Dallas ratepayers. Atmos claims this will cover costs of increased maintenance and repairs. Critics, including Dallas Councilmember Lee Kleinman, say Atmos continues to pay high dividends instead of prioritizing safety of our city.

Supporters of the “People’s Plan” also emphasize the need to focus on helping working families and households transition to a cleaner economy. Labor advocates emphasized their support for actions that establish job recertification and retraining programs for fossil fuel and carbon-intensive jobs, in addition to support for the plan’s calls for collective bargaining and a living wage for public transportation, public sector food, agricultural, and sanitation workers.

GROW North Texas, a local nonprofit focused on regional agriculture, also supports the People’s Plan, saying, “The People’s Plan looks broadly at the structures and larger issues of food production, distribution, and justice that can positively impact ALL Dallas residents as we face the need for adaptation.”  

Supporters of the People’s Climate Plan include Dallas Green Alliance, Democratic Socialists of America North Texas, Grow North Texas, North Texas Transit Riders, Poor People’s Campaign, Sunrise Movement Dallas, Texas Campaign for the Environment, Texas Drought Project, Texas New Era/Jobs with Justice, Veterans for Peace, and Young Active Labor Leaders. 

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Dallas environmental plan is not enough

April 21, 2020

Corey Troiani, Texas Campaign for the Environment

Susie Marshall, Grow North Texas

We are speaking out against the city’s draft environmental plan because it’s all hat and no cattle. We’re a part of a growing movement that is not only bucking the city’s plan, but we’ve outlined exactly how it can be improved.

Last year, groups like ours were involved in helping mobilize hundreds of Dallas residents to support getting the city to net zero carbon emissions. We were invited by the City of Dallas to participate as stakeholders in developing the climate plan from day one. It didn’t take long to realize that the closed-door meetings with the city’s contractor were just a song and dance to make us feel like we had real input.

The city also never provided a clear explanation for how it was going to incorporate public feedback. When the city finally released the first draft last December, it was clear as day: This environmental plan isn’t about reducing emissions or making our city more resilient. It’s about checking a box that allows city leaders to join the ranks of other cities in “doing something green” — even if it’s not really anything at all. Their latest draft is out this week and nothing much has changed from the last.

That’s why we have been working with a growing movement of youth activists, labor organizers, and environmental advocates who are all demanding that stronger actions be taken by our city government. Our coalition believes that climate change is a serious issue, and we need to rapidly increase access to clean transportation, energy, and resources that are all needed to transition to a sustainable future. 

Today our coalition released our own People’s Climate Action Plan, to compete with ideas in the city’s draft climate plan. Our plan outlines a bold path toward a future that supports workers and a truly sustainable economy. Here’s a few ways that our plan does more than the city’s plan.

The majority of climate emissions in Dallas come from buildings and the energy they consume. Dallas has a deregulated energy market that relies on a grid of majority fossil energy. Our plan outlines a path to getting to 100% clean energy on our grid in Dallas, and it begins with direct investment and build-out of publicly-owned energy. Cities across Texas like San Antonio, Garland, Denton and Austin have taken steps toward putting renewable energy on the grid with their public-utility companies.

Our alternate plan takes a harder look at the dangerous and costly natural gas distribution system in our city. Atmos Energy, the monopoly operator of that pipeline system, has neglected maintenance and replacement to a serious fault. More than half of their pipelines are over 50 years old and many are made of old steel or cast iron and tied together with faulty couplings. Instead of forcing Dallas ratepayers to pick up the cost of Atmos Energy’s negligence, we’re advocating for a transition away from this system starting with newly constructed buildings. Many buildings in Dallas, especially multifamily complexes, have already gone all-electric since it’s safer and less expensive.

The current public health crisis brought about by the coronavirus shows that we don’t have adequate systems to distribute food and essential supplies to those in need. The problems of our fragile, industrial food system have come to light. These include stories of surplus milk and produce that have no way to get to it can be consumed by people who need it before going bad. 

Farmers and food workers were already dealing with uncertainty from our changing climate. Now they are facing a true test of faith as it becomes more and more apparent that we need to create more sustainable and resilient systems to support farmers, eaters, and our climate. Our People’s Climate Plan looks at the issues necessary to create a local and regional food system that provides the needed resilience and justice.  

Dallas city staff want to push their weak environmental plan to a council vote next month. We think city officials are making a huge mistake by missing the opportunity in this economic pause to do something bold and meaningful. Dallas needs a people’s climate action plan.

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What the Pandemic Teaches us About the Need for Publicly-Owned Electricity

April 21, 2020

Ron Unger, Veterans for Peace North Texas

One central theme we see in every time of crisis is that people come together to ensure that everyone has access to basic necessities like electricity, water, and other essential supplies. 

This is a natural human response to disaster. This response is not partisan. It is common across political, economic, ideological and ethnic groups. It is a response that nearly everyone understands and supports innately.

This COVID-19 pandemic offers us the opportunity to examine the collective actions we are taking to help each other during this crisis and reflect on how we act during “normal” times. What is different about a person who cannot afford an electric bill during a global crisis than a person that cannot afford an electric bill during “normal” times?

The short answer is the lack of a sense of community. During a widely felt crisis, we are all thrust into the same community of the vulnerable and we act accordingly. Outside of these extraordinary times, we stratify into separate communities and, again, act accordingly.

The COVID-19 pandemic has forced us to realize that electricity is one of the basic necessities of life in modern society. Electricity is so central to our daily lives and livelihoods that the government is willing to step in during a disaster to ensure the lights stay on in your home.

But after this pandemic is over there will still be thousands of people who remain in crisis. In order to be in a position to serve the needs of everyone in our community, the City of Dallas should consider creating a publicly-owned utility in order to deliver reliable and clean electricity to all.

The function of a publicly-owned utility is to provide essential services with the sole mission to serve people and community without the additional goal of generating profit for investors. The decisions made by a publicly-owned utility are focused on meeting the needs and interests of the served community.

The record is positive for publicly-owned power utilities. They generally have lower rates than their for-profit counterparts and provide higher service reliability. In addition, they feed revenue into the public coffers for use for other public projects and services. Just as we see in public water, sewer, and sanitation services, a publicly-owned electric utility provides greater transparency and accountability to ensure that the objective of serving the public good is met.

The COVID-19 pandemic is also instructive for us in dealing with another crisis that we are in the midst of, namely the climate crisis. As we know, the main driver of climate change is the burning of fossil fuels. Publicly-owned electric utilities across the country and globe are serving the interests of their only shareholders, the people, by recognizing the need to eliminate the use of fossil fuels in power generation as a necessary component in addressing the urgent crisis of global warming.

Public utilities in Texas are without a doubt the biggest investors in clean energy in the state. They are willing to make the necessary longer term investments that serve both the immediate and long term public good without being distracted by objections to the loss of short term profits for a select few.

The creation of a public power utility by the City of Dallas would be a step in improving its municipal function of serving the common good. The benefits are being seen all over the country as municipalities are creating public power utilities that allow them to provide reliable electric service to their local communities while also addressing the larger and more urgent need to transition away from using fossil fuels.

The time to act is now. The urgency and utility are evident. Why wait?

References

https://www.publicpower.org/public-power/stats-and-facts

https://www.nytimes.com/2013/03/14/business/energy-environment/cities-weigh-taking-electricity-business-from-private-utilities.html

Reddy Kilowatt, the mascot of Dallas Power and Light Company, represented the former public utility company.