El Paso households and businesses will not have to replace their natural gas appliances with electric appliances if the city’s voters pass Proposition K, the collection of wide-ranging climate change policies on the May 6 city election ballot, according to a top city official. 

Nicole Alderete-Ferrini, who heads the city’s recently-formed Office of Climate and Sustainability, set the record straight last week after the El Paso Chamber and other opponents of Proposition K – also called the Climate Charter – claimed for weeks that the measure would outlaw all fossil fuels in El Paso and require many households and businesses in the city to spend thousands of dollars to convert to all-electric appliances. 

Proposition K “does not say that everyone has to change to electric stoves,” Aldrete-Ferrini said during a community meeting held to share information on the Climate Charter. “To be very transparent, that language is not in there.”

As a city official, Alderete-Ferrini is allowed to share factual information about ballot issues, but cannot endorse an outcome while using public resources, such as last week’s community meeting.

The claims from opponents of Proposition K stem from one provision in the Climate Charter that calls on the city to “employ all available methods to require that energy used within the City is generated by clean renewable energy.” The measure sets a goal of powering the city with 80% renewable energy by 2030 and with 100% renewable energy by 2045 – a timeline similar to the one El Paso Electric has separately committed to to generate entirely carbon-free power. 

The El Paso Hispanic Chamber of Commerce last month released a survey of 700 of its members who shared their feelings on the Climate Charter policies, and 90 percent of respondents said they were against Proposition K. 

But in the survey questions that members responded to, the Hispanic Chamber incorrectly claimed that “by 2030 you would not be able to use gas, you would need to switch to electric.” For businesses and homes that don’t comply, the Hispanic Chamber said, the city of El Paso could “possibly cite and fine you for the home appliances you choose to use”. 

Meanwhile, the El Paso Chamber – which is campaigning against Proposition K through a Political Action Committee called “El Pasoans for Prosperity” – paid an Idaho-based economic consulting firm to produce a study estimating the impact of the Climate Charter if voters pass it. 

The study claimed adoption of Proposition K would wipe out half of the city’s jobs by 2030 and cost El Pasoans billions of dollars. But the study arrived at that conclusion in part because it assumed that El Paso households and businesses would be forced to spend $3.7 billion to switch to electric appliances. About 68 percent of households in the city use natural gas for heating or cooking, according to the U.S. Census Bureau. 

“Adapting the entire energy transmission system away from fossil fuels creates the need for massive capital investment,” the Chamber-commissioned study read. 

Nicole Alderete-Ferrini, head of the city’s Office of Climate and Sustainability, answers questions from city representatives on the Climate Charter during a March 29 City Council meeting. At right is City Manager Tommy Gonzalez. (Diego Mendoza-Moyers/El Paso Matters)

The authors of the Climate Charter, however, said the policy only applies to energy on the city’s electric grid. If voters pass the Climate Charter, the Marathon refinery would be unaffected, vehicles would still run on gasoline dispensed at gas stations, and households and businesses would be able to keep using natural gas stoves and heaters.  

“The clean energy goals are for the utility. They apply to El Paso Electric” and not to households, said Miguel Escoto, a lead organizer with the Sunrise El Paso group that helped write the Climate Charter. 

“What the Chamber is doing as a tactic to spread disinformation is to take this clean energy goal that refers to the utility, and to apply it to transportation, to heat, to everything,” he said. 

Andrea Hutchins, CEO of the El Paso Chamber, said her organization interpreted the Climate Charter as seeking to end the use of fossil fuels in El Paso, though the language of the measure does not call for that. 

“I know that we’ve talked about not getting rid of gas stoves and gas vehicles and things like that. And understand that the Climate Charter does not explicitly call for that. However, it does call for getting rid of all fossil fuels,” Hutchins said. “So we took the language in the climate charter very literally.”

Opponents of Proposition K say that the measure’s language is fuzzy and creates questions over what exactly the collection of policies would do and how much they would cost to implement. 

The city has said that council representatives would have authority to interpret the Climate Charter and enact the policies. But, for example, the phrase “energy used within the city” could potentially be interpreted to mean energy sources used beyond the electric grid, such as the gasoline that powers vehicles. 

And the city should be allowed to use the $5 million that voters granted the city in a bond election last November to establish Alderete-Ferrini’s department and craft a plan to address climate change in the El Paso area, the Hispanic Chamber said in a statement. 

“The ambiguity of the proposition leaves many variables to consider and many unanswered questions for voters and our membership,” the Hispanic Chamber’s statement read. “Our members feel that the city of El Paso should be allowed to move forward with the approved ($5 million in climate-related funding), which the taxpayers have already funded and allow utilities, businesses, and homeowners to move forward with their own clean energy plans.”

And while Alderete-Ferrini made clear Proposition K would not force El Pasoans to install new appliances, she said some provisions of the Climate Charter “could create potential legal challenges” for the city, but didn’t elaborate. 

The Climate Charter’s authors said the campaigning against Proposition K is “fear-mongering” to scare voters about how the collection of policies will hit their wallets. 

“Threatening that every household will have to convert their appliances from gas to electric in a low income community – yeah, that’s going to scare me too,” said Christian Marquardt, communications coordinator for Sunrise El Paso. “And they know that.”

Disclosure: El Paso Electric Co. is financial supporter of El Paso Matters. Financial supporters play no role in El Paso Matters’ journalism.

Diego Mendoza-Moyers is a reporter covering energy and the environment. An El Paso native, he has previously covered business for the San Antonio Express-News and Albany Times Union, and reported for the...