Michael Bloomberg Gets Something Right

Michael Bloomberg, the billionaire former Democrat, Independent, Republican mayor of New York City, is not one of my heroes. I don’t know whether he was a good or bad mayor of a difficult city to govern. His “stop-and-frisk” policies give me the willies.


Beyond New York, I found his $50 million support of the Sierra Club’s “Beyond Coal” campaign beyond ridiculous. He gave the environmental group a large chunk of money to allow the greens to campaign against coal-fired power plants, and, when the plants closed, claim that they had something to do with it. But their chest-pounding, and Bloomberg’s money, has had little to do with the coal plant closures across the country, although it may have helped the Sierra Club increase its membership.

The reality is that coal plants that have closed over recent years shut down for economic reasons. The first mover has been natural gas, with supplies soaring and prices falling thanks to horizontal drilling and hydraulic fracturing in Devonian shale formations, such as the Marcellus in New York, Pennsylvania, West Virginia and Ohio. The second, and far less important, factor has been federal regulation, which would have proceeded without the Sierra Club’s big-money assault on coal.

Now, the energy newsletter SNL reports, Bloomberg has given another $30 million to the club, to bolster its lobbying at the Environmental Protection Agency in support of the Obama administration’s Clean Power Plan. It’s hard to see how that will have any impact on decisions that clearly appear to have been made months ago in the White House to implement its attempt to reduce carbon dioxide emissions from coal-fired power plants. It’s a done deal, although it will face possibly years of litigation, and, to my mind, a bad piece of regulation largely beside the point.

But to Mike Bloomberg’s credit, he has not fallen for the Sierra Club’s other, even more dangerous campaign, “Beyond Gas,” to kill fracking across the country. As Amy Harder reported in the Wall Street Journal this week, Bloomberg slammed New York’s state ban on fracking, orchestrated by Democratic Gov. Andrew Cuomo as “misguided.” Bloomberg told Harder, “To keep coal-fired power plants in upstate New York and not frack doesn’t make any sense at all.”

Bloomberg gets it that natural gas has a far better environmental footprint (not only for carbon dioxide, but for conventional pollutants including sulfur dioxide, oxides of nitrogen, and particulates) than coal. It also has economic benefits to consumers. Bloomberg said he has refused to contribute to the Sierra Club’s anti-gas campaign. Without gas, he said, “there is no viable alternative” to coal for generating abundant, low-cost electricity.

As in the case of his support for the misguided crusade against coal, Bloomberg is putting his money where his mouth is. He’s donated $6 million to the Environmental Defense Fund, which takes a far more reasonable and realistic approach to natural gas than the Sierra Club. EDF organized a rigorous study by Washington State University, which reported this spring that methane leaks from gas transmission and distribution are far less than the figures the Environmental Protect Agency has been putting out, based on data from the 1990s. Thanks, Mike Bloomberg, but you’re still not on my heroes list, even if Her Majesty’s government in Great Britain has awarded you the equivalent of a knighthood.