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Wednesday, April 08, 2015 3:42 PM ET
Coal industry lashes out against another Bloomberg anti-coal donation
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Bloomberg Philanthropies' pledge to give another $30 million to Sierra Club's Beyond Coal campaign will bolster the group's support of pending federal carbon standards for the electric power sector, drawing groans from a beleaguered U.S. coal industry.

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Michael Bloomberg at the Sierra Club headquarters in Washington D.C.

Credit: Molly Christian

Campaign director Mary Anne Hitt told SNL Energy on April 8 that a "big part" of the funding, which is on top of a $50 million gift from the foundation announced in 2011 and will be matched by up to $30 million from other funders, will aid the U.S. EPA's proposal for cutting carbon emissions from existing coal-fired plants. EPA is set to finalize its Clean Power Plan in midsummer 2015, with states required to submit implementation plans a year later.

The proposed standards establish state-specific CO2 intensity limits that EPA estimates will lower power sector carbon emissions by 30% from 2005 levels by 2030.

Sierra Club says its Beyond Coal campaign, which was launched in 2002, has already helped shut down 187 coal-fired plants, leaving 336 plants "to go." With added support from former New York City mayor and billionaire Michael Bloomberg, the U.S. is "on track" to close down half its coal-fired generation by 2017, ahead of Sierra Club's prior goal for a third of that capacity to retire by 2020, Bloomberg said April 8 at the club's headquarters in Washington, D.C.

Coal industry groups swung back against the initiative, repeating concerns that lowering carbon emissions through coal plant retirements will boost costs for electricity consumers and threaten grid reliability.

National Mining Association President Hal Quinn said Bloomberg's gift will "leave consumers more dependent on fewer and costlier sources of electricity and a less reliable supply" of power, citing estimates for pending carbon regulations to raise costs for ratepayers by $366 billion to $407 billion.

The American Coalition for Clean Coal Electricity (ACCCE) said 32 states so far have raised concerns about electricity rates and grid stability under the rule, while governors and attorneys general in 28 states have asked for "outright withdrawal" of EPA's plan.

"Every time the Sierra Club and Michael Bloomberg shut down a coal power plant workers are sent to the unemployment lines, communities are devastated, electricity rates go up and electricity reliability goes down," ACCCE senior vice president for communications Laura Sheehan said. "That's the legacy of destruction they are leaving in their wake."

In addition to Bloomberg Philanthropies' contribution, a coalition of more than a dozen lenders including the Hewlett Foundation, the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation and the Yellow Chair Foundation aim to match up to $30 million in grants for the Beyond Coal campaign, according to the Sierra Club.

The United Mine Workers of America called Bloomberg's investment "an affront to every working and retired coal miner, their families and their communities" and said Sierra Club's campaign puts the pensions and health care of more than 100,000 retired coal miners, their widows and dependents at "direct risk."

But Bloomberg said many mining jobs are already being lost from improved operational efficiencies and other factors outside of Sierra Club's efforts, while employment in the natural gas and renewable energy sectors is growing. "It is possible to grow the economy while [reducing] pollution," he said.

Bloomberg called coal-fired power an "outdated technology . . . that is holding back our economy" and suggested that moving beyond coal would "help our economy, not hurt it." He commended Sierra Club's grassroots campaign as "the model" for enacting change. "It's the local governments … and actions of the people" that are phasing out coal, he said.

Despite the emphasis on climate change efforts, Hitt said Bloomberg's latest pledge will also go toward Clean Water Act enforcement litigation against coal producers.

Sierra Club and other groups recently filed a lawsuit against Patriot Coal Corp. over runoff from its Hobet 21 surface mine in West Virginia, which it said has "biologically impaired" the entire Mud River watershed. Plaintiffs want Patriot to halt violations of its West Virginia/National Pollution Discharge Elimination System and federal surface mining permits. They also asked the producer to conduct water monitoring and sampling to determine the effects of the violations and "restore the environment to its prior uncontaminated condition," according to an April 6 complaint filed in the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of West Virginia.

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