Former Vice President and Nobel laureate Al Gore was in Los Angeles last week to congratulate city officials on their move to end the city’s reliance on coal power by 2025.
“I want to say, in the strongest way I can, this is a really big deal,” Gore said during a news conference in front of the Los Angeles Department of Water building.
Gore included Los Angeles among the top five cities in the world “where combating global warming is concerned.”
Only the cities of London, Toronto, Copenhagen and Berlin have “tried to do something like this,” he said, adding that Los Angeles would be the first American city to become coal-free.
According to Gore — who says he has met years of resistance from federal lawmakers toward his efforts to tackle global warming — the example set by Los Angeles would serve as an inspiration to the rest of the country.
Gore produced and starred in “An Inconvenient Truth,” an Oscar Award-winning 2006 documentary warning of the devastating effects of climate change brought on by green house gas emissions from man-made sources.
Since leaving office and running unsuccessfully to become U.S. president, Gore has put his energy into promoting solutions to climate change and is the chairman of the Climate Reality Project.
Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa, who has pushed to accelerate Los Angeles’ timeline to stop using coal power ahead of state mandates, opened his remarks March 22 by crediting the Sierra Club for carrying through a plan to turn the “dirtiest public utility” in the United States into potentially one of the cleanest in terms of green house gas emissions.
“This was their idea, baby, it wasn’t mine,” Villaraigosa said, referring to members of the Sierra Club who wore yellow shirts emblazoned with the slogan, “Beyond Coal.”
Environmentalists in turn credited the city’s leadership for opening the door and running with their ideas, while other cities rejected them.
“Over the last year, when wildfires have been raging across the country, when the droughts have been crippling the farm belt, when Superstorm Sandy and other storms caused severe economic hardships … the city of Los Angeles during that time has been investing in solutions, investing in energy efficiency,” Sierra Club national Executive Director Mike Brune said.
Villaraigosa said when he first proposed the idea of ramping up its carbon reduction efforts, he was met with “smirks” and even officials of the DWP told him “yeah, right, it’s not going to happen.”
He thanked DWP General Manager Ron Nichols — who Villaraigosa appointed — for helping steer the city to “this historic day to come.”
The Board of Water and Power Commissioners, which oversees DWP, earlier in the week capped off the efforts of environmentalists and city leaders by approving a plan to sell off its stake in a coal plant in Arizona and build a smaller, natural gas plant to replace a coal-fired one in Utah.
“A new era of clean power is dawning and we’re blazing a new trail for the rest of the country and the world to follow,” Villaraigosa said.
Villaraigosa recounted coming of age during the 1950s and 1960s when the “City of Angels” seemed to him “more like smog hell.”
“I always said, when you fight to protect the environment, when you fight to address the challenge of climate change, when you move away from our addiction to foreign oil, we can create good jobs, develop good technologies that would bring jobs and technologies of the future,” Villaraigosa said.
The DWP currently sources 39 percent of its power from coal-fired facilities, but with the two agreements that were approved March 19 pending City Council’s approval, those sources would be eliminated and replaced by renewable or natural gas energy.