When I was in Brazil last month, I had a chance to talk to NYC Mayor Michael Bloomberg and I asked him what the federal government can do to help cities. His answer had to do with federal regulations; specifically, he said something like, “cities can’t force a dirty coal plant to shut down.” I thought, hm, what an interesting example! Sounds like coal is on his mind.

Beyond CoalTurns out I had no idea. Bloomberg, through his Bloomberg Philanthropies, has just committed $50 million over four years to the Sierra Club’s Beyond Coal campaign. Fifty million f’ing dollars! I honestly don’t think I’ve heard news this good since Mass. v EPA.

It’s good for a couple of reasons. First, it demonstrates Bloomberg’s eye for performance. He realizes national politics is paralyzed so he’s investing in what’s working. Sierra Club’s anti-coal campaign is one of the few national environmental initiatives to have substantial success in the last five years, blocking 153 coal plants and counting. And that was done while most of the establishment money and attention were going to the climate-bill effort. The anti-coal movement was bootstrapped and genuinely grassroots.

Here’s what the money will do for the campaign (according to a press release):

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  • Increase the number of Sierra Club campaign states from 15 to 45
  • Increase the active member base from 1.4 million to 2.4 million people
  • Double the size of full-time Sierra Club staff working on the campaign from 100 to 200

If the grassroots anti-coal movement can double its reach and impact, it’s going to get extremely difficult to justify investments in new coal plants.

Michael BloombergSecond, it’s good because Bloomberg is Bloomberg. There’s a certain sort of Beltway type — the No Label, Third Way, Broderish third-party chasers — who just loves NYC’s irascible mayor. He is hard-headed, practical, nonpartisan, commonsense wisdom incarnate, honed in the crucible of the free market.

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So when Bloomberg says coal needs to go away, it has a whole different kind of resonance. He’s not soft-pedaling it, either. The announcement with the Sierra Club was done in front of a coal plant. This is Bloomberg:

If we are going to get serious about reducing our carbon footprint in the United States, we have to get serious about coal. Ending coal power production is the right thing to do, because while it may seem to be an inexpensive energy source, the impact on our environment and the impact on public health is significant. Coal is a self-inflicted public health risk, polluting the air we breathe, adding mercury to our water, and the leading cause of climate disruption.

More concisely: coal is the enemy of the human race.

Bloomberg says he is “pleased to support the Sierra Club and its allies, and I encourage others to do the same.” Well then. That can only help make the campaign against coal a mainstream concern. And make Bloomberg kind of a badass.

I hope it serves as a cue to other rich people that this is the trendy thing to do now. Let’s get an anti-coal telethon on network television. George Clooney will host, Beyonce will play, Michele Obama can chat with asthmatic kids, middle-aged men with heart disease, and pregnant women scared to eat fish. Are you listening, Bono? Call me.