It’s Earth Day! In celebration and reverence of the crucial work that climate justice advocates and activists are doing to preserve our future, we sat down with Luis Enrique Miranda, an organizer with Sunrise El Paso who is now the campaign manager for a ballot measure in El Paso called the El Paso Climate Charter.
In honor of Earth Day, Miranda is here to let us know the looming threats Texans and El Pasoans are facing–and most importantly, how we can all be empowered to take action right now.
What is the El Paso Climate Charter?
“The El Paso Climate Charter is an amendment to the Charter of the city of El Paso. (A charter is like a constitution for the city government.) It is a comprehensive piece of legislation that will establish a Climate Department spearheaded by a Climate Director. It will create jobs, conserve city water, and generate solar power in city buildings. This policy will turn the city into a national leader when it comes to addressing the existential threat of the Climate Crisis. It will give the local government of El Paso a robust legal framework to regulate emissions.”
What kind of environmental threats is El Paso facing?
“Our quality of air is worse than Dallas and New York City, our region is facing the worst megadrought in over a thousand years, earthquakes from nearby fracking operations are becoming more frequent, our car intensive infrastructure weakens our ozone, etc. El Paso is at the forefront of climate catastrophe! The Permian Climate Bomb is right next to us, and our electric utility, El Paso Electric, is dependent on the fracked gas that is extracted from the Permian. To tie it further together, JP Morgan, one of the top financiers of fossil fuels in the world owns EPE and also has deep investments in Permian extraction. El Paso Electric already functions as a horizontal monopoly, JP Morgan just integrated this into a vertical monopoly from extraction to production. On top of that, there is the Marathon Oil refinery operating in the Chamizal neighborhood in the middle of our city. This is textbook Environmental racism. There is also a large source of emissions stemming from our militarized border and the international supply chain between the US and Mexico. Long commute lines keep trucks idle for hours, shooting emissions into nearby neighborhoods and schools where kids walk by every day.”
What would you say to someone who thinks environmental issues don’t impact them?
“If you have lungs, if you need water to survive, if you need clean oxygen to breathe, it affects you whether you engage with the issue or not. While we tune these issues out, our quality of drinking water, which is already full of metals, worsens, the quality of the air we breathe worsens. Your body will feel the impacts. Just look at our higher rates of asthma compared to the national average. El Pasoans have a disparity of who shares the toxic load even within the city. As those living next to the international bridges and the refinery will see those health impacts quicker. It is our very existence and future at risk. El Paso is a beautiful place to live because the natural resources here make life possible, at our current unsustainable rate it is not going to continue that way whether you agree or not.”
How can El Pasoans join the fight?
Support a grassroots organization addressing the issue! El Pasoans are, and have been fed up, and multiple sections of our communities have organized to fight back from different angles. Familias Unidas del Chamizal are engaged in multiple lawsuits with the EPA and their school board over the lack of regulations in their neighborhood and to expose the environmental racism and the disproportionate toxic load they face. Union del Pueblo Fronterizo is engaging in international solidarity with organizations in Juarez such as Frente En Defensa del Chamizal over the issue of the Rio Grande being used as a dumping site for El Paso sewage. This happened due to our drainage system being unprepared for the increasingly heavier monsoon seasons. Sunrise El Paso organized against the JP Morgan buyout of our electric utility, the fight against a new methane fueled power generator called Newman 6, and finally this ballot initiative with Ground Game Texas to pass the “Climate Charter ” which aims to restructure our city’s priorities. We need volunteers to get the 35,000 signatures needed to get on the ballot for November, join our movement!
How can other cities in Texas begin to design their own climate charters?
Take any section of our charter that applies to the issues your community faces! The most important part of our process for drafting the El Paso Climate Charter was the rounds of community feedback we received while shaping it. We ensured people from different parts of the community expressed their priorities and how they wanted this policy to shape our local government. The climate crisis is different for every community, we have to think globally and act locally. We all have a role to play in preventing the industry from continuing unabated at the cost of our health. When we began writing the charter, we started by analyzing the unique challenges our community faces, what infrastructure the industry has in our homes, and how it interlocks with the broader issue.