By Karla Y. Sierra
The idea of a “green” economy might be appealing, but the proposals in Proposition K would rapidly turn family budgets — and the budget of the whole city — into the red. Everyone in El Paso should vote nay on Prop K.
The El Paso Climate Charter, better known as Prop K, is an idealistic effort to push El Paso toward less carbon-intensive energy sources such as solar. Unfortunately, the idealism is the only positive thing that can be said about the initiative. It not only is ill-conceived but, if passed, would inflict widespread and lasting damage on families, businesses, and the city.
Start with what the plan calls for. Prop K creates an entirely new office of city government, a “Climate Department,” that would be empowered to investigate and restrict what El Pasoans can do in the city. Want to build a house or start a business? Meet your new supervisor — the climate director, empowered to wrap you in red tape to make your life more green.
This climate director would be tasked with pursuing impossible cuts to carbon emissions. Prop K calls for transitioning to 80% “clean renewable” sources by 2030 — in just seven years — and 100% by 2045, and requires cutting off city water to the “fossil fuel industry” outside the city limits, including businesses that “assist” that industry. These targets are not only unrealistic but encourage reckless regulation in the name of “justice.”
Prop K also calls for the city to “employ all available efforts to convert El Paso Electric to municipal ownership.” One problem with this idea is that the utility’s private owners bought it in 2019 and agreed to hold it for a decade. But the bigger problem is cost: El Paso Electric sold for $4.3 billion in 2019 and would likely sell for double that. But El Paso’s city budget is just over $1.05 billion.
The mismatch means that this purchase alone would soak up a massive proportion of El Paso’s budget every year, diverting precious resources from necessities like police and fire. In fact, the city even considered buying the utility in 2019 and found it impossible then. There’s no reason to think it’s possible now.
The costs are broader, too, and would affect every household in El Paso.
The Chamber of Commerce commissioned a study of Prop K, and the findings were eye popping. Rising electricity and regulatory costs would cause the region to lose 170,000 jobs. Earnings would drop by nearly $8 billion. The area’s economy would shrink by over 40%. The average household would lose over 75% of its income.
No citizen of El Paso can afford these costs. Hispanics would be particularly hard hit. In Texas, Hispanic workers make up 30% of the oil and gas workforce, and Prop K would be taking direct aim at these jobs. Prop K would also make it harder to afford energy, and Hispanic families already struggle more than others to cover their power bills. “Climate justice” shouldn’t make it harder to keep the lights on for your kids.
All these expensive changes won’t do much to affect climate change. Carbon emissions are a global, not a local, problem, and China emits double what the United States does. Requiring a new house in El Paso to have a solar panel on the roof won’t close the coal plant outside Beijing.
Further, expensive mandates and heavy-handed regulations are not the best way to cut carbon emissions. What the country needs is not another “climate director” but innovative technologies that lower costs while reducing emissions. Regulations can’t produce these innovations, but the market can.
West Texas is already leading the way here, too. You don’t have to drive far before finding wind farms that are creating clean energy and selling it at competitive rates. These farms are the result of market competition, not top-down regulation.
Opposing Prop K doesn’t mean opposing efforts to reduce carbon emissions. It just means opposing a policy that will kill jobs, raise taxes, increase regulation, and lower take-home pay in El Paso and the surrounding region.
Let’s say nay to Prop K.
Karla Sierra is grassroots engagement director at The LIBRE Initiative in El Paso.