Pointing the way to a clean energy future

Doubling Down with Bloomberg Philanthropies to Replace Coal with Clean Energy

Today, I had the honor of standing with Michael Bloomberg and dozens of Sierra Club volunteers, staff, and supporters in Washington, DC, to announce a new round of investment by Bloomberg Philanthropies in the work of the Beyond Coal Campaign. With this new support of $30 million over three years, we plan to double down on our past success and secure replacement of half the nation's coal plants with clean energy by 2017.

It's been four years since I first stood with Michael Bloomberg, Sierra Club executive director Michael Brune, and our staff and volunteers in front of the polluting GenOn coal plant in Alexandria, Virginia, to announce the launch of our game-changing partnership with Bloomberg Philanthropies. The goal of that first round of funding: replace one-third of the nation's coal plants with clean energy by the end of 2015.

That initial investment by Bloomberg Philanthropies has delivered some incredible results, and we're on our way to meeting that goal. The Alexandria coal plant is one of 187 coal plants that have either retired or announced they will retire since 2010, thanks to the work of Sierra Club and over 100 partner organizations, helping to secure clean air and clean water for millions of Americans by supporting the amazing work of activists nationwide. Even better, we're on track to replace that coal with clean, renewable energy like wind, solar, and energy efficiency.
 
We've been able to expand our Beyond Coal campaign from 15 to 45 states, and we've helped build the coalitions that have demanded an end to unchecked pollution in communities all across the nation. Coal has plunged from 52 percent of U.S. electricity generation to under 40 percent.
 
Make no mistake about it -- this energy transition has not been driven by Washington or Wall Street, but by Main Street. It was made possible by regular people fighting in their backyards for the safety of their families and the future of their communities, in places like Chicago, Indianapolis, North Omaha, Milwaukee, Green Bay, Austin, San Antonio, Los Angeles, Minneapolis, Gulfport, and Alexandria. From fighting coal exports, to retiring dirty coal plants in low income neighborhoods, to protecting the Appalachian mountains from mountaintop-removal coal mining, and so much more, these activists of all ages and from all backgrounds are a force to be reckoned with.

These campaigns being led by city council members, pastors, doctors, parents, teachers, and kids are the deciding factor in replacing coal plants with clean energy. These regular Americans are the deciding factor that has turned the tide on climate change. They will be the deciding factor in our success in this next chapter of our partnership with Bloomberg Philanthropies.

And we're not done yet.
 
With a new $30 million of funding over the next three years, Bloomberg Philanthropies is recommitting to the Sierra Club's Beyond Coal strategy.  Acting as a catalyst in the fight against climate disruption, Bloomberg will lead a coalition of funders that aim to match up to $30 million of funding, further boosting the Sierra Club's capacity to move the U.S. toward cleaner energy sources faster. This new support will allow us to:

  • Save lives by cleaning up the air and water. The health benefits of our work to date include preventing 5,000 premature deaths,  avoiding 82,600 asthma attacks, and saving $2.3 billion in health care costs - every year. Retiring even one coal plant can  prevent 29 premature deaths, 47 heart attacks and 146 asthma attacks annually. Peer-reviewed research has also shown families living next to mountaintop-removal coal mines have higher risks of cancer, birth defects, and premature death. Replacing half the nation's coal plants with clean energy will bring real improvements to people's lives.
  • Accelerate the shift to clean energy. From Oklahoma to North Omaha and beyond, community leaders are replacing retiring coal plants with wind and solar power, increasing energy efficiency, and calling on their public officials to make their cities and states leaders in the clean energy economy. This new funding will help us drive that transition even faster.
  • Position the U.S. as a climate leader. Our reduced use of coal and increased use of renewables made it possible for the US to reach a climate agreement with China, and positioned the U.S. as a global leader going into the 2015 United Nations climate change conference in Paris, where nations, businesses, cities, and other actors will convene to make bold commitments on greenhouse gas emission reductions. But the science is clear that we must do more, and the goals announced today by the Sierra Club will put the nation on a path to exceed the U.S. climate targets announced in late March by the Obama Administration.
  • Advance an economic transition. I live in West Virginia, so I understand that the shift away from coal poses big challenges to some parts of the country. It's also something that we have long seen coming -- Senator Robert Byrd warned in 2009 that big changes were facing the coal industry, and told his fellow West Virginians we could "choose to anticipate change and adapt to it, or resist and be overrun by it." That transition is now upon us, and we will continue our work with partners and communities to find pathways and resources for economic transition, so that the whole nation will benefit from the rise of the clean energy economy, especially the places that already have sacrificed so much to power this nation.

It's exciting to imagine what we will accomplish over the next three years of this partnership with Bloomberg Philanthropies. We look forward to continuing this legacy of moving beyond coal to save lives, clean up our air and water, stop climate disruption, and secure the clean energy necessary to power our nation.