Patricia E. Harris
“We look for unmet needs where others haven’t stepped in, and where we can make a difference.”
I recently had a meeting that took me back to the beginning of one of our longest-running and most successful initiatives, and it left me feeling incredibly inspired about the future.
Back in 2011, U.S. coal production was hovering around its all-time peak. Opposition to coal was a third rail across the political spectrum, but the science was growing increasingly clear: Burning coal was the greatest obstacle to progress in the climate fight, both in the United States and globally, and it was a deadly threat to public health.
Here in the United States, a cap-and-trade bill had recently failed to pass Congress, leaving the prospects of any action on climate in doubt. So, when we learned that the Sierra Club was making progress on an effort called Beyond Coal, which aimed to stop the construction of new U.S. coal-fired plants, we knew we had to act. Together with the Sierra Club, we built a groundbreaking national campaign that involved the first comprehensive effort to map and gather data on every coal plant across the country, along with critical information on their economic performance and pollution levels, allowing us to develop a powerful plant-by-plant strategy. And we set a concrete goal: closing one-third of the country’s existing coal plants by 2020.
In the years that followed, we won fight after fight, quickly beating our original goal. We also ran into new challenges: The construction of new gas-fired power plants began to undercut our progress, and the development of clean energy lagged far behind. In response, we expanded our ambitions by launching the Beyond Carbon campaign in 2019 to build on our coal efforts, block planned gas plants, and support clean energy policies at the state level. We also funded workforce development programs in regions long dependent on fossil fuels.
In April 2023, we convened our partners in this work at Bloomberg Philanthropies for the first time since before the pandemic. It was a chance for Mike and me to sit down with the leaders we’ve collaborated with from the very start, and review just how far we’ve come.
We’ve now helped retire more than 70% of all U.S. coal plants, and we’re aiming to close the remaining 30% by the end of the decade. That success led us to expand our work globally, first to Europe in 2017 and now across 32 additional countries, including 25 developing countries in Africa, Asia, and Latin America. Meanwhile, Beyond Carbon has helped block nearly one-third of all planned U.S. gas capacity and ensured that 20 states and territories now have 100% clean energy laws in place.
The approach we bring to these efforts, and many more, goes back to the beginning, even earlier than the beginning of our coal work in 2011. It comes out of Mike’s experiences in business, government, and philanthropy, and it helps us make an impact that spans the globe. Our work is also driven by our longest and strongest partnership of all: with Bloomberg L.P. The vast majority of the company’s profits go to Bloomberg Philanthropies, which fuels all the work we’ve done to ensure better, longer lives for the greatest number of people — and all the work ahead.
Patricia E. Harris
Chief Executive Officer