El Paso

Anti-Prop K signs appear near a polling station at El Paso’s Marty Robbins Recreation Center on Saturday, May 6. Corrie Boudreaux/El Paso Matters

This story was originally published by El Paso Matters, a member-supported, nonpartisan media organization that uses journalism to expand civic capacity in its region.

El Paso voters on Saturday, May 6, shot down the controversial Proposition K measure that sought to install policies designed to address climate change into the city’s charter. The Climate Charter was rejected by almost 82% of voters.

Proposition K, a 2,500-word collection of several climate policies, landed on the ballot after environmental organizers gathered about 22,000 verified signatures on a petition last year. But the Climate Charter sparked fierce opposition – and heavy campaign spending – from business groups such as the El Paso Chamber and the Houston-based Consumer Energy Alliance, which collectively poured over $1 million into television and web advertisements and campaign mailers urging voters to oppose the measure. Supporters of the Climate Charter spent about $30,000 in the election.

Critics of the Climate Charter have argued that the measure was overly vague and expansive, and would have an unclear impact on the Borderland economy if voters passed it. Opponents of Proposition K throughout the campaign said that the city should be allowed to continue on the path that began when El Paso voters last November approved a bond proposition allocating $5 million for the city to establish an Office of Climate and Sustainability that will produce a citywide climate action plan by spring 2025.

“This was a hard fought campaign, and it wasn’t about climate. … The Chamber is in favor of climate initiatives,” said Andrea Hutchins, president and CEO of the El Paso Chamber. The Chamber, she said, now will shift focus to helping the city craft its climate action plan.

“We’re really looking forward to rolling up our sleeves and getting to the good work that we have ahead of us,” she said.

Supporters of Proposition K framed the Climate Charter as an essential tool to combat climate change in the region. It sought to implement a wide range of policies into El Paso’s City Charter that would have required the city to establish a climate department, track air pollution in the region and examine bringing El Paso Electric under the city’s ownership, among other things.

Despite the election loss, proponents of Proposition K said the campaign has brought more attention to the necessity of addressing climate change. The average temperature in El Paso has climbed by more than 5 degrees since 1970, according to the research group Climate Central. That’s the third-highest rise for any U.S. city, behind only Las Vegas and Reno in Nevada.

“Launching this campaign was a huge risk but the fight was worth it,” said Ana Zueck Fuentes, campaign manager with Sunrise El Paso. “The campaign gave us a platform to mobilize our community and grow a base that will continue to fight power. Success has been delayed, but our movement was not defeated. This is just the beginning of the fight for climate action here in El Paso and beyond.”

The heated campaign season in recent months featured heavy spending and tense debates – in-person and on television – between Hutchins and members of the Sunrise El Paso group that backed the Climate Charter. But Hutchins said Saturday that she “would have no problems with working” alongside Sunrise El Paso members on the city’s climate plan going forward.

“We’ve had very good conversations,” she said. “I know that their hearts are in the right place.”

The Consumer Energy Alliance, which is funded by  business advocacy groups and companies that span the energy and oil and gas industries, spent more than $500,000 through its political action committee to defeat the Climate Charter.

“The results show that a vast majority of El Pasoans believe Proposition K was
the wrong path to move the city towards a clean energy future,” Consumer Energy Alliance
Southwest Executive Director Matthew Gonzales said in a statement.

The Climate Charter’s defeat comes after voters over the age of 65 dominated early voting in the city-wide election. Voters under the age of 30 made up 5% of early voters,  The makeup of Election Day voters likely won’t be known until sometime next week.

Opponents of Proposition K throughout the campaign have argued that the city should be allowed to continue on the path that began when El Paso voters last November approved a bond proposition allocating $5 million for the city to establish an Office of Climate and Sustainability.

The office, headed by Nicole Alderete-Ferrini, will produce a climate action plan by spring 2025 that details how the city can help address climate change in the region.

Support for Proposition K mounted some in the last week after the measure was endorsed by former El Paso Congressman Beto O’Rourke and the local chapter of the National Nurses United union. Still, a majority of City Council representatives publicly opposed the Climate Charter, and other city leaders, such as retiring El Paso County Sheriff Richard Wiles, urged voters to vote against the measure.

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 metro newspapers in Las Vegas and Phoenix.