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Bloomberg tops up coal opposition coffers with $64M donation


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Bloomberg tops up coal opposition coffers with $64M donation

A day after the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency proposed to repeal the Clean Power Plan, former New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg announced a $64 million donation that will go to environmental groups "to move the U.S. off coal power."

The funds will be split between the Sierra Club and other related organizations with similar goals. The Sierra Club's Beyond Coal Campaign, which credits itself with aiding in the retirement of 259 coal-fired power plants since 2010, will receive $30 million from Bloomberg Philanthropies. A spokesman for Bloomberg Philanthropies declined to say how the remaining $34 million will be split.

But the ultimate goal is to retire two-thirds of the coal-fired power plants in the U.S. by the end of 2020, Bloomberg said during a press conference at Sierra Club headquarters Oct. 11. The businessman took aim at the Trump administration for its efforts to prop up the coal industry, which has struggled amid low natural gas prices and the declining cost of renewable generation resources. While the announcement was timed after the EPA's move to repeal the Clean Power Plan, Bloomberg also took aim at other Trump administration policies that he suggested are ignoring the underlying market forces driving the retirement of coal-fired generation.

Specifically, Bloomberg pointed to a recent proposal by Energy Secretary Rick Perry directing the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission to adopt a new rule requiring operators of organized markets to value reliability and resiliency attributes of electric generation resources. That proposal, according to Bloomberg, amounts to a "massive taxpayer bailout of failing coal plants."

"This is one of the worst ideas Washington has ever come up with, which is saying a lot," Bloomberg quipped. He urged FERC to reject the proposal, but said that in the meantime, himself and others will keep up the pressure on coal-fired generators.

The DOE contends its proposal is designed to support financially struggling "baseload" generating facilities, which Perry and coal and nuclear power advocates say are shutting down partly due to market inefficiencies that cause those plants to be undervalued. However, the proposal has drawn fire from industry groups, analysts and others, who say it would meddle with competitive markets and provide a subsidy to coal and nuclear power.

Bloomberg's donation brings his contributions to the Beyond Coal Campaign to over $100 million, the Sierra Club said in an accompanying release. Sierra Club Executive Director Michael Brune said the money has gone towards grassroots efforts to secure the retirement of hundreds of "dirty power plants."

"We're just getting started. Our movement is growing and our momentum is unstoppable. Our clean energy future is now," Brune said.

The coal industry has enjoyed more friendly relations with the federal government since the Trump administration took power in January. But as the EPA and other agencies have opened up their doors to hear out the concerns of industry, groups such as the Sierra Club have been eagerly courting donors like Bloomberg to fuel their fight against coal-fired power generation.

Nevertheless, coal industry stakeholders cheered the EPA's decision to repeal the Clean Power Plan, and touted the announcement as a glimmer of hope for an industry that has struggled amid tightening environmental requirements at both the state and federal level.