Not content to have merely taken on the gun lobby, the tobacco industry, and the anti-gay marriage crowd, New York City mayor Michael Bloomberg has set his sights on picking a fight with Big Coal. Bloomberg, who also happens to be the 10th wealthiest person in America right now with an estimated personal fortune of $18B, has donated $50M through his philanthropic organization to the Sierra Club over four years to help fund their Beyond Coal campaign.
According to Rolling Stone magazine, Bloomberg held an over-the-top press conference on the Potomac River in Virginia with the 60-year-old Alexandria Coal Plant as his backdrop to announce his donation.
“If we are going to get serious about reducing our carbon footprint in the United States, we have to get serious about coal, ” Bloomberg said. “Ending coal power production is the right thing to do, because while it may seem to be an inexpensive energy source the impact on our environment and the impact on public health is significant. Coal is a self-inflicted public health risk, polluting the air we breathe, adding mercury to the water we drink and the leading cause of climate disruption. ”
Here is Rolling Stone on the ‘Beyond Coal’ campaign:
The Sierra Club’s Beyond Coal campaign, which began in 2003, has been one of the few bright spots in environmental activism in recent years. Headed by a shrewd Washington DC lawyer named Bruce Nilles, the Sierra Club’s campaign distanced itself from beltway politics and went after Big Coal at the ground level, helping to organize local opposition to new coal plants that were proposed around the country and using every legal means at their command to derail the necessary permits. The result: 153 new coal plants stopped in their tracks.
The fight against Big Coal in the United States is not likely to be a smooth one, despite the generosity of people like Bloomberg, and the success of the Sierra Club. Like almost every large and divisive issue in the U.S., there is a powerful coal lobby in Washington that fights to ensure myths about clean coal are perpetuated, and efforts to regulate the industry are kept to an impotent minimum.
Groups like the American Coal Council lobby for a new and improved public persona for coal: they claim that “we need to rely on coal; it’s our ROCK!” And aside from arguing that “relying on renewables to reduce CO2 emissions may do nothing and could even have the opposite effect” is not an opinion of theirs, but is undeniable fact, the ACC lobbies hard to ensure that coal is seen as American as apple pie.
“Now is the perfect time to rely on our abundant, affordable/secure, and increasingly clean domestic coal resources,” the ACC argues. “Not only do those resources provide secure jobs, a strong tax base, and social and economic sustainability, the implementation of new and more efficient technologies is allowing coal-based energy to rapidly improve its efficiency and environmental record.”
Yet these same technologies are also allowing them to displace hundreds of citizens living near mountains that they can now blow the tops off of to access coal in a more economically efficient manner.
But no matter.
As long as organizations like the Sierra Club keep fighting, and as long as people like Michael Bloomberg keep allowing them the means to fight by keeping the wheels of change well lubricated, the effort to roll back Big Coal can only progress. And I am glad to see that Bloomberg and others (see the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation’s recent efforts at ‘reinventing the toilet’ to improve water and sanitation in the Global South) are realizing that with great power comes great responsibility, and I would add that it is a great responsibility to do good with that money and power.
And on the Big Coal front, as Rolling Stone argues, this “also gives Bloomberg the chance to play outside the sandbox. Bloomberg is famously impatient with beltway politics and believes that to get anything done you need to work from the ground up. Funding local activists to launch a guerilla war to replace coal plants with clean energy is exactly his style.”
Now – what fight will he take up next?