By Kathleen Staudt
The Climate Charter on May’s ballot has generated polarizing debate and fear-mongering. Local media coverage has tended to be more of the “he said-she said/they said-they said” variety rather than focused on water, renewable energy, and common-sense approaches to energy-efficient upgrades in future city building.
When I saw the slick anti-Prop K flyer in my mailbox, it became clear what power dynamics are at play in this upcoming election. The misleading flyers reminded me of those powerful people promoting council candidates who made the interests of developers and real-estate speculators a higher priority than working people’s interests.
Powerful forces in our community are working hard and spending lots of money to deter speedier climate action in our city government.
Co-authors and I published the short book, ”Who Rules El Paso?: Private Gain, Public Policy, and the Community Interest” in 2020. We used evidence to document the ways that powerful, non-representative and moneyed forces in our city use political processes to advance their aims.
How? The biggest example involves gaining subsidies for high-profile, often unnecessary but seemingly public efforts that we, the property taxpayers, pay for in bigger budgets. Yes, some are philanthropists, and we appreciate goodwill, but that deters questions about their ultimate aims.
The recent flyers, paid for by El Pasoans for Prosperity PAC, follow the much-hyped Chamber study, from Moscow, Idaho, raising hyperbolic warnings and fears about what could happen with a climate charter, as if other state, national, and police union contracts wouldn’t put a check on drastic action. The study’s funders seem oblivious not only to the job and business benefits of climate action but also to inaction and its environmental costs, such as asthma and respiratory illnesses from pollution.
I taught public administration, served on various nonprofit and public boards and commissions, and even spent a year in the U.S. State Department in a unit aiming to change the mentality of staff and spending. I published research on those and comparable efforts outside the United States.
Believe me, the efforts don’t work miracles, as proponents might hope. Nor do they create disasters as climate charter opponents predict and as other states and cities show in this country. But the efforts did and do provide leverage at the highest levels of bureaucracy to infuse changes in how staff behave and allocate budgetary resources in the future.
I reviewed earlier drafts of El Paso’s Climate Charter language and hope that voters will read it as well.
The upcoming election is important. And I will be voting for the Climate Charter and looking forward to a people- and community-oriented future that quickens our move to renewable energy, the protection of our resources, and our health. I hope voters will use their common-sense “power of numbers” to counter the few who rule El Paso.
Kathleen Staudt is professor emerita of political science at the University of Texas at El Paso. She co-moderates the Community First Coalition. An overwhelming majority of CFC’s Steering Committee recently decided to endorse Prop K, the Climate Charter.