'Mayor' Bloomberg, Defending Obama, Goes After State Attorneys General for Protecting Polluters
Michael Bloomberg has not been shy about using his vast personal wealth (estimated at $40.9 billion) on political spending. Last year the former New York City mayor announced plans to spend $50 million building a national grassroots movement to curb gun violence. It's a significant amount, especially considering the fact that the National Rifle Association spends only $20 million on political activities each year.
Now the perennial putative presidential candidate has set his sights on a new target: carbon emissions. Last month, he announced his plans to run a series of political television ads attacking the attorneys general of four states — Florida, Michigan, Missouri and Wisconsin — who are suing the Obama administration over new regulations aimed at reducing emissions from power plants. The attorneys general claim the rules will drive up energy costs and destroy coal industry jobs. Notably, the four states have been presidential battlegrounds.
Two of the Bloomberg ads describe the attorneys general as bending to special interests and taking donations from “polluters.” The ad airing in Michigan accuses Attorney General Bill Schuette of “putting polluters and his campaign contributors ahead of protecting Michigan families.” The Florida ad describes Pam Bondi, a Republican, as “an attorney general for polluters, not for us.”
“These four attorneys general are trying to stop the president from doing something that I think is terribly important,” Bloomberg told the New York Times. “I want the public to know what they’re doing.”
The regulations, part of the EPA’s Clean Power Plan (CPP), which was introduced in August, are a central element of Obama’s Climate Action Plan, which aims to fulfill the president’s 2009 pledge to reduce the nation’s overall greenhouse gas emissions 17 percent below 2005 levels by 2020. To meet that goal, the CPP sets state-by-state targets to cut carbon emissions from the energy sector 32 percent from 2005 levels by 2030.
The White House asserts that by setting the goals of CPP and allowing states to create tailored plans to meet them, there will be huge benefits for public health, the national economy and savings for average Americans. Specifically, the White House says it will create tens of thousands of jobs, lower the costs of renewable energy and save consumers $155 billion between 2020 and 2030. The CPP will also:
- Prevent up to 3,600 premature deaths
- Prevent 1,700 non-fatal heart attacks
- Prevent 90,000 asthma attacks in children
- Prevent 300,000 missed workdays and school days
- Save Americans nearly $85 a year on energy bills
- Save enough energy to power 30 million homes
- Lead to 30 percent more renewable energy generation
Still, the CPP has met with fierce, primarily Republican opposition, with conservative critics saying it represents an unconstitutional federal overreach, will drive up energy bills and reduce the electric grid’s reliability. The EPA has firmly dismissed these claims. Janet McCabe, acting assistant administrator of the agency’s Office of Air and Radiation, said the plan is “based on a sound legal and technical foundation," adding that it "really puts states in the driver's seat."
The four attorneys general who are the targets of Bloomberg's ads are fighting back. According to the New York Times, Wisconsin Attorney General Brad D. Schimel said in an email statement that Bloomberg is an “out-of-touch billionaire.” And in a statement, Florida attorney general Pam Bondi described Bloomberg as a “billionaire bully”:
Florida has a great and conscientious track record of improving its air quality and protecting its environment … Now a billionaire bully is attacking Florida, and 26 other states, for having the audacity of defending their citizens against the EPA’s heavy-handed and unlawful regulations. This bully wants to defend the federal government; we want to protect the people we serve.
In her announcement about the lawsuit, Bondi claimed the EPA rule sets an "unrealistic" timeframe to cut carbon emissions by 2030 and would "require the use of costly and unproven technologies."
Twenty states are challenging the EPA rule in addition to the four targeted by Bloomberg: West Virginia, Texas, Alabama, Arkansas, Colorado, Georgia, Indiana, Kansas, Kentucky, Louisiana, Montana, Nebraska, New Jersey, Ohio, South Carolina, South Dakota, Utah, Wyoming, the Arizona Corporation Commission, and the North Carolina Department of Environmental Quality.
Environmental concerns are not new for Bloomberg. During his tenure as mayor of New York, 2002 to 2013, he became known as one of the most environmentally minded big city mayors in the country, introducing in 2007 PLaNYC, an aggressive program to overhaul the city’s environmental sustainability by 2030 that tackled 10 specific areas: housing and neighborhoods, parks and public spaces, brownfields, waterways, water supply, transportation, energy, air quality, solid waste, and climate change. According to NYC.gov, “Over 97% of the 127 initiatives in PlaNYC were launched within one year of its release and almost two-thirds of its 2009 milestones were achieved or mostly achieved.”
The overblown political rhetoric about the plan tends to obscure the market reality that the coal industry has been in steady decline for a decade, partly as a result of the natural gas boom, but mostly because consumers are demanding cleaner air and action on climate change … King Coal is dying of natural causes: Market forces, technological advances, and public demands for clean air and climate action have combined to make alternative sources of energy more financially attractive. The price of new wind power, for example, is lower than that of coal in most parts of the country.
Maggie Haberman of the New York Times said that Bloomberg’s new ads “amount to a defense of the White House over its Clean Power Plan.”
Whether this defense will work remains to be seen. But one thing is for certain: Coal is on the decline and fewer Americans are dying because of it. “A decade ago, coal pollution was killing 13,000 people a year,” Bloomberg wrote in his op-ed. “Today, the number is down to 7,500, which means that more than 5,000 Americans are living longer, healthier lives each year thanks to cleaner power.”