When will LA transition to 100% clean energy? That depends on City Council.
From October 2015 to February 2016, methane gas leaked and burdened local residents of Porter Ranch with a plethora of physical symptoms, from intense nose bleeds to breathing complications and cancer, due to their exposure to the toxic air. The gas blowout released over 100,000 metric tons of methane into the air — the equivalent of burning 1 billion gallons of gasoline — easily making it the largest methane leak in US history. This glaring environmental tragedy pushed Los Angeles City Council Member Paul Krekorian to author a motion mandating the Los Angeles Department of Water and Power (LADWP) research pathways to 100% renewable energy for the city. Thus, the Los Angeles 100% Renewable Energy Study (LA100 Study for short) was born.
The LA100 Study was released to the public on March 25 after a press conference for Mayor Garcetti and other LA elected officials to celebrate the significance of this one-of-a-kind study. After five years of meetings and running millions of simulations, the study illustrates four different clean energy scenarios along with their impacts on the environment, the economy, and community health.
But still, the study has yet to answer the million dollar question: How and when exactly will Los Angeles transition to 100% clean energy?
The answer rests in part on the political will of LA elected officials. With new council members like Nithya Raman, Kevin de León, and Mark Ridley Thomas, there is a promising shift in City Council dynamics that leans progressively on climate and energy affairs. However, our council members can’t just be ambitious in their goals. They must also be willing to deeply invest and partner with the community to make this transition possible.
We need our council members to advocate for the quickest and most equitable clean energy pathway in order to avoid the insidious dangers that come with relying on a polluting economy. Poor Angelenos of color bear the brunt of the climate burden. If our communities’ needs aren’t met as part of the solution, it won’t matter which LA100 scenario we choose. Because of this, the City Council must prioritize community voices in the creation of our climate solutions.
So, with that in mind, where exactly is your City Council representative on this 100% transition?
Members of the Energy, Climate Change, Environmental Justice, & River (ECCEJR) Committee:
Mitch O’Farrell: Mitch O’Farrell is the newly appointed Chair of the Energy, Climate Change, Environmental Justice and River Committee. As a newcomer to energy issues, Mitch O’Farrell has not yet announced whether he supports requiring LADWP to commit to 100% renewable energy by 2030. However, O’Farrell led the city’s opposition to the construction of the Dakota Access Pipeline and has pushed for more community involvement in the LA100 process. He has also voiced support for including environmental justice principles in the study. O’Farrell could potentially take on the challenge of transforming our grid to 100% real, clean energy by 2030, but it will take a willingness to deeply partner with the members of his community. So far, his neglect for the houseless community has raised deep concerns on this ability to successfully and equitably listen to the needs of the community.
Kevin de León: Kevin de León is new to the LA City Council, but as the former California Senate Pro Tem, he brings a lot of experience on climate policy. As Senator, he authored a landmark climate legislation, SB100, that mandated California transition to 100% carbon-free energy by 2045. This wasn’t a perfect bill: it included dirty biomass and biogas in its definition of “renewable energy” and promoted cap and trade, a failed policy that increases pollution in communities of color. On the ECCEJR Committee, de León expressed concern with LADWP’s ability to rise to the occasion, pointing to improving energy efficiency as “low hanging fruit.” As a likely mayoral candidate, de León is clearly ambitious. But if he wants to see LADWP step up their game, then it’s on him to make it happen.
Paul Krekorian: Paul Krekorian is the original author of the motion for the LA100 study in 2016. Now that the study has been completed, Krekorian is in an ideal position to continue leading Los Angeles on an ambitious pathway to a clean energy future. In December 2020 he convinced the ECCEJR committee to support the complete phase-out of neighborhood oil drilling, going farther than the 2,500-foot health and safety buffer zones advocated by environmental justice communities. On March 31, Krekorian, along with O’Farrell and Martinez, authored a resolution that asks LADWP to prepare a plan that achieves 100% carbon-free clean energy by 2035. This is the leadership we know we can count on to transition our grid to 100% real, clean energy. However, we must ensure that “carbon-free energy” does not include biogas or nuclear.
Paul Koretz: A co-author on Councilmember Krekorian’s original motion to study pathways to renewable energy, Koretz was the first council member to sign onto the Beyond Coal campaign to get Los Angeles off coal power. He fervently supported the campaign to stop the rebuilding of Los Angeles’ aging coastal gas-fired power plants, stepped up in 2016 to co-author Krekorian’s motion to study pathways to 100% renewable energy, and worked with environmental justice groups in pushing the city to establish the first Climate Emergency Mobilization Office. Recently, he publicly told LADWP that he wanted to see a 2030 scenario in the LA100 study during an ECCEJR committee meeting. We hope he will use the rest of his last term to make an even greater mark.
Mark Ridley-Thomas: After 12 years as a Los Angeles County Supervisor, Mark Ridley-Thomas was elected to the Los Angeles City Council in November 2020 and assigned to the ECCEJR Committee. When asked if he would support the phase-out of neighborhood oil drilling in Los Angeles, however, Ridley-Thomas failed to communicate solidarity with the community, instead saying the phase-out would burden Angelenos with costly lawsuits. Even so, there is a chance he could be a vital support in the fight for 100% renewable energy. Before exiting the Board of Supervisors, Ridley-Thomas helped establish a just transition task force to design a plan for employing oil and gas workers in decommissioning abandoned oil drilling sites. Should he continue to build off that work, Ridley-Thomas could be key in facilitating labor’s participation in Los Angeles’ move to clean energy.
The Rest of City Council
Nury Martinez: Nury Martinez is currently the Los Angeles City Council President with deep roots in the San Fernando Valley. When it was discovered that LADWP’s Valley Generating Station in Sun Valley had been leaking methane and other toxins like benzene and formaldehyde into the community, Martinez immediately criticized LADWP for their negligence and called for the shutdown of the facility in her community. She is a vocal advocate for environmental justice and climate policy that is not built on the backs of people of color. Martinez has a difficult task in front of her, working to guide the city out of a pandemic and economic crisis, not to mention the climate crisis. Martinez has advocated tirelessly for disenfranchised voices in her district. As City Council President, she now has the power to change the system that disenfranchised them to begin with.
Nithya Raman: Nithya Raman is one of the newly elected City Council members. She ran on an ambitious, visionary environmental platform that included getting the city to 100% clean energy by 2030 and expanding energy efficiency. She has been actively developing relationships with other council members as well as grassroots community organizations.
Mike Bonin: Mike Bonin supports strong climate action; this makes him a reliable clean energy ally. He is a proponent of STAND LA and works closely with environmental organizations like Sunrise Movement LA to push climate initiatives forward. Bonin has also worked to promote equity in both Los Angeles’ transit and public health sectors.
Joe Buscaino: Joe Buscaino has one of the worst records on the environment and climate. Instead of answering the call to advocate for environmental justice in his heavily polluted district, Buscaino listens very closely to oil lobbyists for refineries that pollute San Pedro, Wilmington, Harbor City and Harbor Gateway, and Watts. As the only board member representing Los Angeles at the South Coast Air Quality Management District, he voted against forcing major polluters to reduce emissions, even though it was a clear violation against public health. To no one’s surprise, he opposes 2,500-foot setbacks for oil wells in disadvantaged communities, most of whose residents and workers are people of color.
John Lee: John Lee has had a long-standing relationship with SoCalGas and the oil industry. In his run for City Council in 2019 and 2020, he received more than $300,000 in campaign contributions from Big Oil law enforcement interests, and a LADWP union. After over a year of community pressure since his election, the LA City Council will finally take up a resolution by Lee on closing Aliso Canyon on May 19. Aside from supporting this obvious demand, he needs to do more action and less talk on climate and environmental justice.
Marqueece Harris-Dawson: Marqueece Harris-Dawson represents a community that has long been burdened by neighborhood oil drilling and poor air quality. In an article by the Los Angeles Times, Harris Dawson was quoted in support of building out energy efficiency for new buildings.
Bob Blumenfield: Bob Blumenfield represents more conservative parts of Los Angeles like Woodland Hills and Tarzana. He co-sponsored the motion to implement the Climate Emergency Mobilization Office in the Public Works Department that would facilitate collaboration with communities and elected officials to create equitable climate policy.
Monica Rodriguez: Monica Rodriguez represents communities near the Valley Generating Station. She has not been vocal about shutting down the facility, despite the fact that she authored a motion to monitor its air quality alongside Councilmember Martinez’s call to shut down the facility.
Gil Cedillo: Gil Cedillo was a member of the ECCEJ committee last year, but did not take progressive stances during his time on the committee. Despite his endorsement by Senator Bernie Sanders, Cedillo’s term has not exhibited progressive climate action.
Curren Price: Curren Price represents some of the most heavily polluted communities in Los Angeles. Price recently came out in support of the LA100 Study during the study’s press conference, stating that it was a step in the right direction to achieving environmental justice.
Mayor Eric Garcetti: Mayor Eric Garcetti is nearing the end of his term, which has been rocky, to say the least. A self-described climate leader, his failure to stand up to SoCalGas over the Aliso Canyon gas blowout or to end neighborhood drilling has disillusioned Angelenos who criticize the mayor for being more interested in his political career than their welfare during a crisis. While he has secured climate victories like stopping the rebuilding of Los Angeles’ coastal gas plants and transitioning the city’s bus fleet to 100 percent electric buses by 2030, Garcetti could do much more. Even his Green New Deal is a repackage of the weak Sustainability Plan that will not get us to zero emissions fast enough to slow climate disaster. The mayor has also recently refused to commit to a complete ban of natural gas from our future energy mix during the LA100 Study press conference, stating that it would be “our last option.” However, he did publicly support a 2035 goal during the LA100 Study press conference.
A second round of LADWP Community Meetings is coming up, their first meeting set for Tuesday, May 18. These meetings are intended to present the study’s main findings, key topics, and next steps and are just one way to stay informed throughout this clean energy transition process.
While we need support and continuous advocacy from our elected officials to drive our clean energy transition forward, our vision for a just recovery and climate justice for LA starts with its people. It was the people who urged the City Council to take action after the devastating Aliso Canyon blowout, and it’s the people who continue to show up and demand real climate solutions. A just recovery leads to climate solutions. We need the City Council to vote for a strong climate/recovery package that allows the city’s transition to clean energy to bolster our recovery from COVID-19.
Join a Climate Justice for LA campaign meeting organized by Food & Water Watch to fight for community-based clean energy solutions that will not only reduce emissions, but will also create local green jobs, ensure healthier air and climate, and direct our city’s resources back into our most marginalized neighborhoods. And to stay up to date with the volunteer actions, sign up to plug into the Food & Water Watch Volunteer Network.