New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg will donate $50 million to the Sierra Club to support its nationwide campaign to eliminate coal-fired power plants, including one under construction in southwest Arkansas.
Sierra Club executive director Michael Brune described the gift from Bloomberg Philanthropies, which will be spread out over four years, as “a game-changer, from our perspective.” The group will devote the money to its “Beyond Coal” campaign, which has helped block the construction of 153 new coal-fired power plants across the country since 2002.
In some cases, the Sierra Club has joined with unusual allies in working to prevent new power plants, like in southwestern Arkansas, where the advocacy group and the Hempstead County Hunting Club are suing to block the construction of Southwestern Electric Power Co.’s $1.7 billion John W. Turk plant.
Brune said in a phone interview that the group will use the money “to identify the oldest, dirtiest coal-fired power plants, retire them and replace them with clean energy.”
As mayor of New York, Bloomberg has pushed for environmentally friendly policies such as investing in renewable energy and making the city’s taxi fleet more efficient. But this is his largest financial contribution to an environmental effort, and the donation will significantly swell the Sierra Club’s $80 million annual budget.
Coal industry officials, however, questioned whether the campaign to phase out coal plants was realistic given the fact that they now supply close to half of the nation’s electricity.
“If their program were successful, where does the Sierra Club suggest we get our energy?” asked Lisa Camooso Miller, spokesman for the American Coalition for Clean Coal Electricity, a trade group. “Coal is American. It’s affordable. It adds to our quality of life.”
With Bloomberg’s donation, the Sierra Club plans to expand its “Beyond Coal” staff from about 100 people to nearly 200 full-time employees, which it will deploy in 46 states. Most of the staff will engage in grass-roots organizing, but some will work on lawsuits or social networking.