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Mayors of largest U.S. cities in lockstep to fight coal

Mayors of largest U.S. cities in lockstep to fight coal

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The mayors of America's largest cities are actively fighting coal as an energy source, citing emissions, health risks and cost. Will they succeed?

America's mayors are picking up arms against the coal industry.

The philanthropic foundation of New York City mayor Michael Bloomberg announced last week that it will commit $50 million over four years to the Sierra Club in a campaign to retire coal for cleaner sources of energy.

The grant will help retire a third of the nation's aging coal fleet by 2020, the organization says.

Coal is the leading source of greenhouse gas emissions in the U.S. It's polluting, it's dirty, and its use carries an array of health hazards -- from asthma to birth defects to cancer -- that is estimated to cost $100 billion in healthcare costs each year.

Enter the mayor of America's most populous city. Following in the footsteps of the mayor of another major U.S. city -- Antonio Villaraigosa, of Los Angeles, who promises a coal-free city by 2013 -- Bloomberg is striking out against coal, calling it a "self-inflicted public health risk."

"If we are going to get serious about reducing our carbon footprint in the United States, we have to get serious about coal," Bloomberg said in a statement. "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."

The money goes toward the Sierra Club's "Beyond Coal" campaign, which works to close coal-fired power plants. It certainly doesn't hurt that the cost of coal is increasing at the same time that the cost of renewables is decreasing, making the 19th-century technology less favorable as the nation enacts policy favorable for the 21st.

(For many utilities, it's more cost-effective to close a plant outright than apply pollution-reduction equipment to meet regulations.)

It's not just the coasts that are on board with fighting coal, either: Chicago mayor Rahm Emanuel yesterday unveiled that his administration was working on an ordinance to urge coal-fired plants in the area shut down or convert to cleaner-burning natural gas, again citing health costs.

Meanwhile, Houston mayor Annise Parker in April took a longer look at a proposed plant in her city, citing environmental damage as a risk.

And it certainly doesn't help that the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency earlier this month took a tougher stance on coal pollution with its Cross-State Air Pollution Rule, effectively dooming the nation's oldest coal-powered facilities.

New York, Los Angeles, Chicago and Houston; 1, 2, 3, 4. Are the tides turning for coal in the U.S.?

Photo: Fisk coal-fired power plant, Chicago, Ill. (Eric Pancer/Flickr)

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Andrew Nusca

Editor Emeritus

Andrew Nusca is editor of SmartPlanet and an associate editor for ZDNet. Previously, he worked at Money, Men's Vogue and Popular Mechanics magazines. He holds degrees from the Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism and New York University. He is based in New York but resides in Philadelphia. Follow him on Twitter. Disclosure