FILE - Austin City Council

Austin City Council chambers

Despite numerous reports of the high cost and shortcomings of the federal “Green New Deal,” the Austin City Council unanimously voted to pass a resolution modeled on its premise.

“The Council recognizes we are already experiencing the adverse consequences of climate change, understands the urgency of creating a blueprint to prepare for and respond to the shocks and stressors of catastrophic climate events, and supports the general tenets of the Green New Deal,” the resolution states.

One of the resolutions directs staff members to explore ideas for a city climate resilience plan and to consider hiring a specialized resiliency consultant or chief resilience officer.

Another directs staff members to analyze electric vehicle trends; determine reasonable targets for lowering transportation-related greenhouse gas emissions; make electric cars more accessible to Austin residents; and integrate charging stations into Austin neighborhoods.

Council Member Ann Kitchen called the measure “a good next step” to an existing plan to electrify the city’s public transportation.

Progressive Council Member Natasha Harper-Madison expressed concerns, but in the end voted for it. 

“There are a lot of poor people in this city. And a $38,000 electric vehicle is not an option for them,” she said. “If we’re going to have to be thinking about how to allocate funds in the most resourceful, long-term beneficial way possible, I can think of other things that are more important, frankly.”

Council Member Leslie Pool, who sponsored the resolution, pointed to a similar plan adopted by New York City after Hurricane Sandy and by New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina, although Austin has never experienced a natural disaster remotely close to either hurricane in its history. She says the Austin area is called “flash flood alley” despite the city never having experienced flooding disasters like neighboring Houston.

Both the New York and New Orleans plans were implemented after two of the greatest natural disasters in American history occurred. Hurricane Katrina cost 1,836 lives and displaced more than one million people in the Gulf Coast region. Hurricane Sandy affected 24 states on the East Coast, destroyed 650,000 homes, left 8 million people without power, and caused the death of 159 people.

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration estimates Katrina cost $160 billion worth of damage, and Sandy cost $70 billion.

Within four years of being created, the New York resiliency plan cost $2.2 billion with more than half of its 20,000 applicants dropping out or being deemed ineligible by administrators.

"I just can't accept that billions of dollars have been spent, only helping a fraction of the people," New York Councilman Mark Treyer, chairmain of the committee on recovery and resiliency, said after residents complained of delays and rejections for four years.

Five years after Sandy, a PBS documentary reported on more delays and more problems with the program.

The Austin resolution passed at a time when taxpayers are paying 80 percent more than they were 10 years ago, the advocacy group Empower Texans argues.

It’s more of the same wasteful spending and lack of leadership by the city council, Jacob Asmussen at Texas Scorecard said. Despite spending over $4,000 per Austinite (roughly double that of other cities like Dallas), he says, the Austin City Council “has long had trouble resisting the urge to waste citizens’ cash; they have previously spent $450,000 on two public toilets and $115,000 to clean one public toilet, literally given away millions to any citizen who emailed the city asking for cash, and overspent $140 million on a bad tunnel.”

Neither the name nor the plan has anything to do with “resiliency,” critics argue.

In engineering terms, "resiliency" refers to returning something to its original state, and is generally used in natural disaster terminology.

“Austin City Council’s latest scheme to hire a ‘climate resiliency czar’ has nothing to do with improving the environment or even disaster preparedness – it’s just virtue-signaling, an excuse to raise taxes in the name of supposed moral superiority,” Jason Isaac, senior manager and distinguished fellow for Life: Powered, an initiative of the Texas Public Policy Foundation, told The Center Square.

The resolution provides no information about how installing car-charging ports and reducing greenhouse gases would prevent flash flooding or 100-year storms like Katrina and Sandy.

“If Austin wants to help its residents be more prepared for floods and wildfires, there are absolutely steps they can take – but kowtowing to the cultural phenomenon of the Green New Deal will only harm Austinites’ pocketbooks and the city’s economy,” Isaac said.