It’s Thursday, January 19, and the Houston area has adopted a climate action plan.

A refinery along the Houston Ship Channel is seen with downtown Houston in the background

In a 3-1 vote along party lines last week, commissioners in the most populous county in Texas approved a plan to slash greenhouse gas emissions and advance environmental justice.

The overarching target of the 24-page climate action plan is for Harris County — which includes Houston — to cut its climate pollution from government operations by 40 percent by 2030, compared to a 2021 baseline. To get there, the document puts forward six specific goals, including halving carbon emissions from county buildings and facilities without the use of offsets, electrifying 50 to 75 percent of the county’s passenger vehicle fleet, and cutting the county’s landfill waste in half. It also recommends installing up to 20 megawatts of solar power and 10 megawatt-hours of battery storage by 2025.

The county says it will work with community partners to “address environmental health disparities associated with local climate impacts,” such as heat-related visits to the emergency room.

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Proponents of the plan said it would require significant investments but that its benefits would outweigh the much greater costs of inaction. Indeed, recent years have already offered the Houston area a preview of what’s to come as temperatures continue rising. In 2017, Hurricane Harvey dumped more than 1 trillion gallons of water onto Harris County over a four-day period, causing more than $125 billion in damage. Extreme cold in February 2021 cut electricity to 91 percent of residents, while heat waves and drought in 2022 strained power infrastructure and led officials to take emergency action to keep people cool.

“Acting now benefits the local economy, ensures that county operations are efficient and managed responsibly, and prepares the county for future climate impacts,” Lisa Lin, Harris County’s director of sustainability, told commissioners last week.

Harris County is now Texas’ second county to adopt a climate action plan. The first was Travis County, which includes Austin. Texas doesn’t have a statewide climate plan, although the federal Environmental Protection Agency said in October it would establish a regional center to coordinate adaptation activities across Texas and four neighboring states.

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