The one-time deputy mayor of Los Angeles has hit the big time. Jay Carson worked for the Villaraigosa administration for just over a year, leaving last fall. That's around when tthe Clinton Climate Initiative got its peanut butter all up in the chocolate of C40, a group of large cities working together to cut their emissions (well, someone's got to do it). So now Carson is the chief executive of the Reese's peanut butter cup that is the C40-Clinton Climate Intiative. And with a budget of $15 mil and 70 people working for him, Carson recently rated a Q&A in Fortune magazine.
Working for the city of LA seems to have made a strong impression on Carson. He told Fortune cities don't have the luxury of throwing around a lot of talk on climate change; instead, he said, they have to act:
Mayor Villaraigosa was the genius behind this. He said I can get four or five of my mayoral colleagues and we're 100 million people. I love Montana, but instead of trying to get Montana, let's get a few like-minded mayors around the world on board to really take action. And then bring that action to scale with other similar cities. What worked in Moscow may not work in Los Angeles, but sometimes in surprising ways the policies are transferable.
Later on in the story, Carson asserts there's a unique advantage to the relationship the city of LA has with its municipal utility:
[T]he city of Los Angeles -- and by the way, the city of Austin, too, and several other cities around the world -- controls power generation. The mayor appoints five members to the board of the Los Angeles Department of Water & Power, and they run it. So when Mayor Villaraigosa came in, he said, "We need to generate cleaner power, we're far too reliant on coal, let's move more heavily into renewables." He was a visionary in that realm.
What we will do in C40 is link other cities together with municipal utilities and have them learn from Los Angeles. And by the way, L.A. is now implementing a drastic carbon reduction program that is highly affordable and supported by the business community.
Carson took the deputy mayor job to a chorus of Democratic party players singing his praises. Tom Daschle said he had a sharp strategic mind. Daschel and SEIU's Andy Stern both called him a problem solver in the Villaraigosa-office press release heralding his arrival. He didn't need a quote from the Clintons, for whom he worked: the fact that he was at Bill's birthday dinner in Vegas with all the other big boys spoke for itself. (At this point is hard hitting hipster business-card worthy? After all, Ron Kaye went to town on that one).
I requested an interview from C40/CCI with the hope of finding out how working in LA at least some of the time on environment issues agreed with Carson. LA's success with Clinton Climate Intiative backing for LED streetlights predated his time here. As for the DWP, what happened between late 2009 and late 2010? David Nahai was forced out. And last spring, Mayor Villaraigosa announced a rate hike that got linked straight to renewables when the mayor called it a carbon tax - and the subsequent fight with city council stymied the utility's work on getting its rates straightened out and sustaining its renewable goals.
Jay Carson waded into the fray to diffuse the situation - trying to get word out that 55 percent of DWP customers would see their bills go up 2 dollars or less. But that message didn't seem to take with the public. A few months later, Carson was gone.
Last fall after his new gig got announced, Carson told Andy Revkin for his Dot-Earth blog at NYT that his goal was to take the C40-CCI to the next level:
As it’s become clearer that there’s not going to be much action at the federal level, the importance of C40 grows. Some might say it’s boring, nitty-gritty, nuts and bolts stuff, but it’s in the implementation that happens at the city level where we’re going to see the most action on climate change in the near future.
We've been a little short on reportable action lately. I'd love to know what C40/CCI's got cooking with LA.