Pacific Swell | Southern California environment news and trends

Will Los Angeles get beyond coal by 2020?


Where does Los Angeles get its power? If you’re an LA Department of Water and Power customer, about 40 percent of your power comes from coal.

That’s why Sierra Club’s got a campaign called LA Beyond Coal going. The goal’s simple — to get LA off coal. And getting there sounds like it should be simple too, since L.A. Mayor Villaraigosa said in Jul 2009 that L.A. will eliminate electricity from coal by 2020 — and L.A. City Council President Eric Garcetti announced his commitment to getting L.A. off coal earlier this month. But according to David Graham-Caso, Sierra Club’s associate press secretary, environmentalists can’t sit back and relax just yet.

“The L.A. campaign is specifically trying to make sure that the Department of Water and Power actually follows through with Mayor Villaraigosa’s commitment,” David says. “This is a very big city with a bureaucracy to match it. It takes a lot of political will — which of course is another way of saying public will — to get things done. And while this is at its core a simple goal, there’s a lot of complicated policy that goes into fulfilling the commitment. So we need people to stand up and make sure DWP gets a very clear message that people in the city, customers they serve, want to get their power from sustainable sources and not dirty and dangerous coal.”

Hundreds of Angelenos showed up at City Hall to send just that message on Oct. 10, when Sierra Club held a Rally to Get L.A. Off Coal and Oil along with Greenpeace, Coalition for Clean Air, Communities for a Better Environment, Physicians for Social Responsibility, Grassroots Coalition, and other environmental and health groups. There, Garcetti arrived on his bike to speak to the activists: “I pledge to all of you to make sure that with all of your help, if you keep up this fight with us, we will get off coal in Los Angeles.”

LA DWP is the nation’s largest municipal utility, and gets more power from two coal-fired power plant– Navajo Generating Station in Arizona and Intermountain in Utah — than from any other source. And the utility’s currently working on its 2010 Integrated Resource Plan — a long-range plan that will determine where the utility gets its energy from in the future. “As they are doing this planning, we want to see the planning sync up with the commitment,” David says.

LA Beyond Coal’s part of Sierra Club’s nationwide Beyond Coal campaign, which fired up to stop the development of 150 new coal-fired power plants proposed during the Bush administration. “We’re very proud that — working with partners and campaigns across the country, we have stopped the development 139 of those 150 plants,” David says. The LA-specific campaign kicked off late last year and is off to a hot start, with a handful of neighborhood councils and other community groups already pledging support for a coal-free Los Angeles.

For Angelenos who want to get involved in the campaign, LA Beyond Coal’s website has 10 tips — including a plea to get your councilmembers behind the coal-free goal, since the council does have oversight over LADWP. Beyond that, activists can sign up for email alerts from the campaign to show up where they’re needed, fast. “This is very much a fluid campaign. where the people we need to be speaking with change depending on where the motions and parts of the plan are,” David says.

Social media savvy types can also follow @LABeyondCoal to find out about the latest events — Campaign organizers recently popped up at a Mar Vista farmers’ market, for example — or add a photo to the photo petition on Flickr.

And of course, if you want to put your money where your mouth is, you can sign up for LA DWP’s Green Power program and get your own home off coal now.

Top photo: Rally to Kick Coal and Oil out of L.A. at Los Angeles City Hall on Oct., 10, 2010 (Zach Behrens/LAist); Bottom image: LA DWP's 2009 Power Content Label via LADWP (PDF)