In July 2018, the Trump administration rolled back Obama-era regulations meant to mitigate the greenhouse gases emitted by coal-burning power plants. Six months later, Democratic lawmakers introduced their Green New Deal, which – in spirit – would overhaul transportation and energy infrastructure in an effort to move Americans toward completely renewable energy sources.
In the meantime, the planet isn't getting any cooler: the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration ranked 2018 as the fourth-hottest year on record.
Environmental policy at the national level may run the gamut, but Los Angeles is one American city that has led the way in crafting environmental policy that achieves California's aggressive sustainability goals while also creating economic opportunities for local businesses and residents. Several city council members also recently announced their support for the national Green New Deal.
Pressing Policy recently sat down with Councilman Paul Krekorian to discuss the status of the sustainability movement in LA. Krekorian was instrumental in passing LA's plastic bag ban in 2013. California voters approved a statewide plastic bag ban in 2016.
Number one, electricity generation. Los Angeles is the owner of the largest municipal utility in the country: the Department of Water and Power, and DWP is embarking on a blueprint not just for setting the goal of 100 percent renewable energy, but making a blueprint to making that real.
There is great complexity to doing that, when it comes to grid reliability, affordability and transmission challenges. We're actually planning for how to get there. We're partnering with a national renewable energy laboratory in Colorado to do that. The computer modeling that we're doing right now in the city of LA will be a blueprint that cities around the country will be able to follow as well.
We have set a goal – and we will meet that goal – of being completely coal-free by 2025. State law will require all municipal utilities to be free of coal by 2027, we're two years ahead of schedule and we expect to meet that goal.
When it comes to transportation, we're investing more than anyone in the country right now in public transit here in Los Angeles. It's a massive investment in our built infrastructure and our transportation.
We have a generation of young people now who are much more committed to public transit than my generation was. People who are in their 20s and 30s now freely consider a life without a car in Los Angeles. And they want a system that works. They want a transit system that gets them to where they want to go.
They also want land use decisions to be used in a way that creates walkability, bike-ability, and proximity between work, entertainment and homes. So, we're moving in the direction of building a transportation infrastructure far more robust than we've ever had, but also planning our land use around that.
The third area I would talk about would be around building codes. Because energy and water efficiency – when it comes to what gets built – is a critically important part of the climate change picture. It's not often talked about because it's not that interesting or sexy, but the truth is that water efficiency is critically important when it comes to climate change.
In California, about 25 percent of the electricity that used in the entire state is used to move or treat water. So, the less water we use, the less energy we're using, the less impact on the climate.
I think that climate change is creating a sense of urgency globally.
The question is are we acting quickly enough? Are we going to respond before we get past the tipping points of no return? But the other side of this equation is that it presents tremendous opportunity for us as well because where there is urgency, there is an opportunity to do bold things that will build a bright, better future economically.
One example: LA has the LA Cleantech Incubator, where we're helping innovators and entrepreneurs develop industries that don't exist yet.
This is a real opportunity to be able to develop job creating industries that aren't dependent on old, polluting industries. This could allow LA – and places like LA that are home to innovation and creativity and entrepreneurship – to really lead the world in developing an economy of the 21st century.
Renewable energy is for the most part intermittent. We only get sun power when the sun shines and wind power when the wind blows, which means that we need to find ways to ensure the reliability of power when we need it. That's going to mean more investment in storage technologies that don't even exist yet.
That's a really important technical barrier that the world is working on solving right now.
We have to build more transmission lines to be able to bring that power into the basin. Of course, we need more in base generation as well: rooftop solar, things like that, but large sources of renewable energy require transmission. Transmission takes a long time to build and has its own environmental impact that we have to find solutions for.
The third big barrier would be cost factors. Large scale investments in renewable energy – to get to 100 percent or anywhere close – require significant investments in new generation facilities. That's big investments in big infrastructure. It is going to take that, so, that's an issue because that can only be paid for at the end of the day by ratepayers.
…but what choice do we have? And what are the alternatives? If we continue to be dependent on fossil fuels, that also will have great impacts on the public health and quality of life impacts.
The adverse impacts to the globe and people individually, to the public's health, to quality of life, all of those are cost factors that should be taken into account every bit as much as the other costs.
Morgan Stephens is a journalist covering policy and politics at the University of Southern California. Her Pressing Policy series aims to make public policy accessible, engaging and transparent for a new generation of voters by sitting down with political leaders to talk about the issues they care about most.