Los Angeles burns coal to create 39% of its electricity.  One of our coal fired generating plants ranks in the top 100 worst polluting plants in the US. But, closing down that dirty source of power just got a step closer:  City Councilman Bill Rosendahl signed the “No Coal by 2020” pledge.  

How did that happen?

Greenpeace brought audiences to see my film, “A Snow Mobile for George”.  So, when local organizer Jenny Binstock asked me help organize a Kick Coal Out of LA rally at City Hall on 10-10-10, I figured I owed them one.  She even agreed to invite a Samba band to lead the event.  

You can take action right now to protect Americans from dangerous coal emissions.

The rally rocked.  It proved that “No Coal” has traction:  Why should Angelenos send cash to Utah for a polluting coal plant, when the same money could provide local citizens jobs building solar installations here in sunny southern California?

10/10/10 Rally at Los Angeles City Hall

Now, six months later, we’re going through the City Hall metal detectors and I’m rehearsing in my head what I’m supposed to say to City Councilman, Bill Rosendahl. “City Councilman” may sound like small change.  But in LA, that person represents 260,000 people, roughly equivalent to a Congressperson.  And, in this case, the City Council is also the boss of the largest publicly owned utility in America, the LADWP.  So, Bill Rosendahl, my city councilperson, has a lot of influence over what happens to that coal plant 1,000 miles away.  

Once inside his office, my fellow volunteer, friend and political activist Sara Nichols, starts asking Councilman Bill about his backyard roost of chickens.  Yeah, chickens.  I look at Sara, trying to stay cool in my suit coat, listening to her make a pitch for Bill’s surplus chickens.  How, I wonder, do I make a casual transition from eggs to coal?   Finally, the flock settles down, and I start.

Councilman, the City of Los Angeles has a window of opportunity that won’t stay open forever.  Our publicly owned utility has to write its formal, 20-year plan this year.  Federal incentives for solar panels run out in 2016.  Credible scientists say we have until 2015 to start making serious reductions in our carbon footprint or risk unknown catastrophe.  And, state law will start to fine LA for burning coal starting in 2020. The DWP plans to close the Navajo coal plant before 2020, but the DWP will continue buying power from the much larger Intermountain Power Plant until 2027.  Considering that we’re already giving ourselves 9 years to make the switch from coal, going seven years longer is pointless.

If he agrees with us, Rosendahl would be the second committed vote on the council along with Councilmember Paul Koretz.   He listens to the facts and figures, pauses a moment and then asks, “What can I do to help?”   

Councilmember Rosendahl with Greenpeace LA Volunteer Leaders Lauren Keenan and Elliot James

We suppress the urge to cheer.  I ask him to sign the pledge to get coal out of the DWP energy mix by 2020.  He agrees, pending a closer look at the wording.  Evan Gillespie from Sierra Club, who has been Mr. Science throughout these meetings, quickly hands him the printed pledge.   Sara points out that LA could lead the country in adopting solar and, and in so doing, could take a big bite out of unemployment.

Rosendahl agrees with us, but he can’t talk any more.  President Obama will arrive in LA the next day, and the head of the City’s transportation office just arrived to talk about street closures for the President’s visit.

We exit into the hallway slapping high-fives!

Now we need to keep going-this means we need a bunch more people, right now, to contact their Los Angeles City Council person and ask them to commit to doing everything in their power to make the LADWP coal-free by 2020.  How? Schedule a meeting with their staff.  Ask about the Councilperson’s concerns, and then request a meeting with the Councilperson. It is their job to talk to you. But, do it quick, because LA has no time to waste!

 

Todd Darling is a filmmaker from Venice, CA.   Todd views the Greenpeace campaign to “quit coal” as an opportunity to stop pollution and to create new jobs by building a solar infrastructure that will lessen our reliance on fossil fuels.