Friday, July 22, 2011

The Big Apple's Mayor and the Sierra Club

New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg – the 13th richest person in the United States – announced yesterday that he’s pulling $50 million out of his wallet and giving it to the Sierra Club over the next four years to help move the country away from burning coal to make power.

Bloomberg said his gift would enable the Sierra Club to close as many as one-third of America’s oldest coal-fired power plants by 2020.

This is not the man’s first charitable contribution. He’s donated money to the Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids; the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention; Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School for Public Health; the World Lung Foundation and the World Health Organization. He gave Harvard a $3 million gift in honor of his father, and reports contributing $254 million in 2009 to almost 1,400 nonprofit organizations, saying, "I am a big believer in giving it all away and have always said that the best financial planning ends with bouncing the check to the undertaker."

If my net worth exceeded $18 billion like Bloomberg’s does, I’d give the Sierra Club some cash too. Since the organization launched its “Beyond Coal” campaign in 2002, it’s stopped over 150 proposed coal-fired power plants through community organizing, litigation and effective communication. The Sierra Club wants to make sure our existing fleet of outdated coal plants gets cleaned up or phased out and is replaced by greener energy sources.

Think generating electricity by burning coal is a good idea? Think again:

  • Coal harms communities and public health at every step of its use – from mining the coal to burning it to storing the leftover toxic waste.

  • Coal plants are the Number One source of mercury pollution in the United States.

  • Each year, coal pollution causes 12,000 emergency room visits and $100 billion in health costs.

  • Coal pollution causes 13,000 asthma attacks a year, and one in ten kids in this country suffers from asthma.

  • Coal use, primarily for the generation of electricity, now accounts for roughly 20 percent of global greenhouse gas emissions.

  • Coal is inherently higher-polluting and more carbon-intensive than other energy alternatives.

Mayor Bloomberg’s generosity didn’t go over so well in coal-rich West Virginia.

“The next time the lights go out, the people in New York City will all know exactly whom to blame — their mayor, Michael Bloomberg,” said Rep. Nick Rahall (D-WV).

West Virginia’s Acting Governor, Earl Ray Tomblin, called coal “the most stable, cost-effective means of meeting the energy demands of our country and the world.”

“It sends a terrible message to coal miners and families that depend on coal, not only in West Virginia but across this country,” opined Bill Raney, head of the West Virginia Coal Association. “[Coal] has provided energy to make steel and power throughout the history of this country. Now, all of a sudden, he’s made a lot of money doing something, and he wants to put it into something that sounds pretty shallow, pretty selfish.”

Shallow and selfish? You know, sometimes the pro-coal forces utter such nonsense that you feel sorry for them and it’s not worth responding. And the media uses phrases like “weighed in on the controversy” and “opponents countered with the fact that…” as if both sides of the coal debate are equally credible. In fact, one side in this “controversy” has truth and science and wanting children to breathe better on its side and the other side, desperate to maintain the status quo, can’t defend its position so it resorts to calling names and attacking the messengers.

Since half of the electricity generated in the United States is from coal, the Sierra Club and its allies have their work cut out for them. Fortunately, politicians like Michael Bloomberg are willing to put their own money, not just ours, where their mouths are.

Sources: The New Yorker, The West Virginia Register-Herald, The Sierra Club, The Pew Center on Global Climate Change.

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