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Leaders Needed to Move LA Beyond Coal and Into the Sunlight

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Supreme Court Justice Louis Brandeis is often quoted as saying that "sunlight is the best disinfectant" as a way of talking about the benefits of openness and transparency. When it comes to reforming the way Los Angeles gets its power, sunlight is useful in more ways than one.

Late last week, the Department of Water and Power (DWP) Board of Commissioners unanimously approved Mayor Villaraigosa's initiative that would shine much-needed sunlight on the DWP planning process, create thousands of local jobs and generate the funds for energy efficiency and renewable energy projects that will harness the power of sunlight to wean our City off dirty and dangerous coal-fired power. The City Council will now look at the issue and could vote as soon as this week on the Mayor's plan. Whether you are a DWP rate-payer, one of the too many Angelenos looking for work, concerned about our changing climate or all of the above, this plan is essential to your future.

As the Los Angeles Times wrote in an editorial last week, Los Angeles has a dirty secret. Our city gets a disappointingly high 44% of its power from dirty coal-fired power plants located in Arizona and Utah, which are among the worst stationary sources of pollution in the United States. Coal-fired power plants are poisoning the people that live near them by polluting the air and water. Pollution from coal-fired power plants is also a major contributor to the potentially catastrophic climate disruption that may already be intensifying the wildfires and droughts that directly affect families in Los Angeles. It makes neither long-term nor short-term economic sense for Los Angeles to continue exporting our money to out of state coal corporations when we can instead invest in energy efficiency and renewable energy technologies that will put thousands of Angelenos to work.

The way these investments are made is as important as the investments themselves. The Mayor's proposal will provide for public planning and independent auditing of any investments made by the DWP. Additionally, part of the Mayor's proposal will increase transparency by taking the first step toward dividing into two categories the "energy cost adjustment factor." The energy cost adjustment factor is the part of your utility bill that rises or lowers in each billing cycle depending on how expensive the fuels that DWP needs to buy to produce energy are at the moment. This part of utility bills has also recently been used to pay for other DWP projects, which makes it very difficult to decipher utility bills and figure out what your money is actually paying for.

By dividing this part of your utility bill into two categories, you will be able to see how the DWP is spending your money. The first category, covering nearly three-fourths of the Mayor's proposed rate increase, will show you the money DWP must pay to cover the fluctuating costs of dirty and dangerous fossil fuels like coal. The money in the second category will invested in energy efficiency and renewable energy projects that will help Los Angeles break the chains tying us to increasingly expensive coal. Put another way, the first category is the problem and the second category is the solution.

By supporting the Mayor's proposed investments in clean energy now, members of the Los Angeles City Council can demonstrate the foresight to protect their constituents from drastic and avoidable rate increases in the future--especially those low-income families that could be devastated by such a hardship. This proposal addresses concerns about increasing rates in the midst of tough economic times by incentivizing energy efficiency programs, which allows families to manage the bottom line of their DWP bills as rates are marginally increased.

The Mayor demonstrated leadership by introducing his initiative. We need our elected representatives on the City Council to help lead Los Angeles out of the cloud of doubt and pollution caused by coal and into a bright future in the sun.

Bill Corcoran is the Southwest Region Director for the Sierra Club's Beyond Coal campaign- a national effort that aims to move our economy toward a clean energy future by stopping new polluting coal-fired plants, phasing out existing plants, and keeping U.S. coal reserves in the ground and out of international markets. Thanks in part to the work of the Beyond Coal Campaign, plans for 128 new coal plants have been shelved since the beginning of the coal rush, keeping more than 530 million tons of carbon dioxide out of the atmosphere. For more information about the Sierra Club's Coal Free LA campaign, please visit www.sierraclub.org/coal/ca.