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Al Gore to Join Villaraigosa in Carbon Surcharge Press Conference, But Don't Worry, He's Not Flying Here

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Former Vice President Al Gore yesterday threw his support behind Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa's controversial carbon surcharge plan, which would increase electricity bills for LADWP customers so the city would be using 20% renewable power by the end of 2010. Gore, who has been criticized for his jet-setting ways, will join the Villaraigosa and other key environmental and civic leaders via satellite from Nashville. But is Gore ready to enter the fray? Is Gore being used to save the city's budget under the veil of environmentalism?

No one can argue that Villaraigosa's vision of renewable energy is a bad one. In fact, it's fantastic. But many can agree that this is not purely about saving the environment, something the mayor himself proved this week.

"It was only last week that the mayor of Los Angeles was cloaking his massive Department of Water and Power rate-hike proposal as a green initiative designed to ween the city off of coal power," explained the LA Weekly, which goes on to say the rate "hike, which would eventually include 28.4 percent increases for some customers, is a Band-Aid for the city's near $700 million deficit (coming in July)."

But in today's Gore media advisory, Villaraigosa only partially explains the surcharge:

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The Carbon Reduction Surcharge will separate a portion of the Los Angeles Department of Water and Power's rate collection and place the funds into the Renewable Energy Trust Fund to invest in clean, green energy and job creation. This innovative proposal can be the catalyst for the Department of Water and Power to jumpstart Los Angeles' use of green energy. The Carbon Reduction proposal provides a dedicated revenue stream for investing in renewable energy production and efficiency programs. The proposal will also lower greenhouse gas emissions while enabling the
City of Los Angeles to invest locally its own green economy and stimulating job creation at a time when Los Angeles needs it most.

The LA Times also noted the surcharge's progression from purely environmental to budget-saving. "When the proposal was first mentioned two months ago, Villaraigosa and his staff pitched it as an environmentally friendly initiative that would wean the DWP off dirtier coal," the paper wrote (some in the psychology field would call this priming). "Weeks later, the mayor said the extra revenue also would help the utility cover rising coal costs and renewable energy contracts signed by his administration since 2005."

The surcharge would also "pay for new renewable energy projects and aggressive conservation measures, helping to create 18,000 jobs," "help the DWP avoid a downgrade in its credit rating, which would increase the cost of borrowing" and be "the most immediate and direct route to bankruptcy the city could pursue," according to the Times.