By pushing for coal subsidies, the Trump administration wants to force taxpayers to prop up a heavily polluting industry when cleaner and cheaper energy sources are widely available, Michael Bloomberg, the billionaire former mayor of New York City, said Wednesday.
“Why should taxpayers be forced to subsidize an industry that may kill them when cleaner energy sources are available and also cheaper? The Trump administration wants taxpayers to pay more for an earlier death,” Bloomberg said at an event in Washington, D.C. where he pledged $64 million to support efforts by the Sierra Club and other groups to move the nation’s power sector off coal.
Bloomberg criticized efforts by the Trump administration to effectively subsidize coal-fired power plants at customers’ expense. The Department of Energy (DOE) sent a proposal to federal energy regulators late last month that would guarantee profits to coal and nuclear power plants in certain regions of the country. Just this week, Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Scott Pruitt announced plans to repeal the Clean Power Plan, an Obama-era rule that would have reduced emissions from the electricity sector.
Despite the negative climate and health effects from coal plants, the Trump administration is focused on helping the coal industry. Energy Secretary Rick Perry formally proposed that the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) take swift action to help coal and nuclear plants — arguing that they address threats to U.S. electrical grid resiliency. Perry’s goal is to stop cheaper, cleaner renewables like solar and wind from shutting down dirtier and more expensive plants like coal and nuclear.
Bloomberg said he hopes FERC, which oversees the U.S. grid and regulates interstate electricity transmission, will reject the administration’s request for a “bailout” of failing coal-fired power plants. “But we aren’t going to wait to find out,” Bloomberg said, citing the additional money he is providing to the anti-coal campaign.
After months of speculation, the EPA on Tuesday released its formal proposal to repeal the Clean Power Plan, a 2015 rule that would have lowered carbon emissions from the electricity sector by 30 percent by 2030. It’s unclear when the EPA will solicit suggestions for what sort of regulation should replace the Clean Power Plan, although the agency is required to regulate carbon emissions as a pollutant.
“The war on coal is over,” Pruitt proclaimed when announcing the repeal.
“He couldn’t be more wrong because the war on coal has never been led by Washington,” Bloomberg countered. “It has been led by market forces that are providing cleaner and cheaper forms of energy, by communities that don’t want air and water [that were] poisoned by coal, and by cities and states and companies that want to save money and protect public health.”
The EPA’s retreat on regulating power plant carbon emissions, combined with Trump’s plan to withdraw from the Paris climate agreement, is adding to the nation’s negative image on climate and environmental issues, according to Bloomberg. Repealing the Clean Power Plan “sends a message to the rest of the world that America doesn’t care about its people,” he said.
Since 2011, 259 out of the nation’s 523 coal-fired power plants — almost 50 percent — have either closed or announced plans to shut down. That number includes 11 coal-fired power plants that have retired or made plans to retire since Trump took office in January. Bloomberg said his goal, with the new round of funding, is to see 60 percent of the nation’s coal plants closed by 2020.
All of the plant closures have occurred even though the Clean Power Plan never went into effect, Bloomberg pointed out. As a result of these closures, the number of Americans killed by coal pollution has dropped by more than 40 percent, from 13,000 every single year to about 7,500, he said.
Even before the latest investment, Bloomberg had already funded more than $100 million in the Sierra Club’s Beyond Coal campaign. Bloomberg said a portion of his latest funding commitment will go to the League of Conservation Voters’ campaign against coal plants and to provide grants to organization that are working in coal country to help people gain new skills and find good jobs in growing industries.
“Coal jobs aren’t coming back. People pretend that they will but they are only giving false hope to regions where the federal government has failed them for much too long,” Bloomberg said. “Trying to force taxpayers to subsidize them back into existence will only lead to more death and disease.”
Bloomberg also highlighted how cities and states are making progress on climate issues as the federal government refuses to take action. “Over the last decade, the U.S. has led the world in reducing carbon emissions despite the fact that Congress never passed a single law requiring it,” he said.
Following the Trump administration’s June announcement that it would officially withdraw the United States from the Paris climate agreement, hundreds of cities and businesses, joined by a handful of states, promised to uphold the country’s commitments with or without the federal government. Now, those cities, states, and businesses are taking that promise one step further, announcing they will measure their emissions reductions and present a compilation of existing sub-national climate commitments to the United Nations at this year’s climate conference in Bonn.
The billionaire’s charitable organization, Bloomberg Philanthropies, has joined with California Gov. Jerry Brown (D) to create a program called America’s Pledge that will measure and publicly report the nation’s progress in lowering carbon emissions “so the rest of the world can hold us accountable for results,” Bloomberg said.