Photo of Michael Bloomberg

Remarks on Clean Energy in Alexandria, Virginia

December 13, 2019

Good morning, thank you. It's great to be here with this team of volunteers and climate champions.

Patricia, thank you for those great words. My mother would believe every one of them. My daughters not so much. And you should know that Patricia and I after this is over are going to work to try to get a coach for Reverend Yearwood to learn how to be enthusiastic. Thank you for your comments as well. Your leadership over the years really has made a big difference.

Bruce Nilles is here. He is the brains behind scaling Beyond Coal and really deserves an awful lot of the credit.

We're also joined by Misti O'Quinn – a Sierra Club organizer and mother of three from Dallas, who is taking on the dirtiest coal plant left in the United States.

Deborah Graham – who is a North Carolina activist. I'm going to North Carolina on Sunday, are you going to be there? I'm going to go to church like I do every Sunday. I did for 12 years, I actually went a lot. It's just great to see different cultures and how people pray and people preach and the messages are actually different from each church and you do learn a lot. And I've always joked, but I never told my mother I spent more time in church than temple, but she didn't seem to care when we talked about it.

Duane Ninneman from Minnesota, who is doing great work to pressure rural electric co-ops to ditch coal.

And thank you to all of you.

Eight years ago we were here on a barge in the middle of the Potomac River. It was steaming hot as I remember and we talked about this coal fired power plant and the piles of coal on the upriver side were really amazing. And I always thought, Congress, it's one thing for them to not pay any attention, but they were working down wind. They were breathing all that air. Well today, if you walk out and look at the power plant the coal is all gone, the plant is closed. I assume at some point here it will be ripped down and they'll do something much more productive with the land.

We are in the shadow of the Capitol – and why? Because our national work on climate change began here, and a decade ago we started a program to get a cap and trade bill passed. It was a time when both Houses were in the Democratic hands, but the bill lost in the Senate where they couldn't get 60 votes. And it's a shame because a cap and trade program then had its problems, but I think it would have been the right thing and it would have made a difference. The fact that we didn't get it done is just sad, I guess.

A lot of people thought it was the end of U.S. leadership on climate change back then, but we refused to believe that and I think we've shown that we've done an awful lot since then.

In 2011, we came here, as I said before, and we stood in a spot right around here and we said we are just not going to walk away. And we called our new campaign Beyond Coal, and nearly a decade later it has been called the most successful campaign of the modern environmental movement – thanks to all of you. It just goes to show you if you set reasonable objectives and if you include the public and explain what you're trying to do, we really can make progress. And we are better off because of that, but we're certainly nowhere near where we have to be.

We launched the campaign to retire one-third of the U.S. coal plants by 2020. You'd be happy to know we met that goal six years early – and so we raised it. We met our new goal – and we increased it again.

So far, we have retired 299 out of 530 coal plants across this country. And we have a commitment to retire all of them by 2030. I think given what's happening across the country and the public's understanding of the damage that these plants are doing, not just for long-term climate change but to the short-term environmental issues in the water we drink and the air our kids are breathing, and that sort of thing, this is not an unreasonable goal. And I'm going to do everything I can, and I hope everybody in this room will help to get them all done.

People say why are you so sure you can do it? And my answer is because we've already done.

In the first eight years, we're halfway there. And we accomplished this even with Donald Trump's administration working against us. So if we could have a president that actually wants to lead the way and help, whether they're Democrats or Republicans or whatever, we could do an awful lot more and a lot quicker, and that would save a lot of people's lives and keep them healthier.

That's really why I'm running for President – because I think that Donald Trump is the wrong person for the job. I don't think that he is reuniting and rebuilding America, which is what we needed, still need. I said this back in 2016 at the Democratic Convention in Philadelphia. Unfortunately not enough people listened to me, but at least I'm on record. You can get it on YouTube.

We have to start working as hard as we can building a 100 percent clean energy economy because the alternative is just too bad for all of us.

Today, I'm happy to announce that we are setting new, ambitious goals for our country – including goals that we can actually achieve over the next eight years.

First, I will push for an 80 percent reduction in electricity emissions by the year 2028, and 100 percent clean electricity shortly thereafter.

To get it done, we'll replace all U.S. coal plants with clean energy. We'll also replace existing gas plants and we'll stop the construction of new gas plants. There is an article in I think it's today's New York Times about the amount of methane that gas is spewing into the air – it is really scary. This is going to be worse than coal. We've got to make sure that we go from beyond coal to beyond carbon, which is what we've done with our organization.

It's a critical step to stopping the worst effects of climate change, because gas, as I said, is now really a very big problem, bigger than coal.

We'll also put a moratorium on all new fossil-fuel leases on federal lands – that will make a big difference. And we'll end the over $10 billion in subsidies for fossil fuel companies to help them make the transition. But no more tax loopholes, no more tax breaks, or egregious tax deductions. We have to all be in this.

What's happened is an awful lot of coal fired power plants just declare bankruptcy, they walk away from their obligations to help the coal miners who have damage to their lungs from breathing all the air. They walk away from their obligation to honor pension contracts. They walk away from their obligation to reclaim the land afterwards and just say we're bankrupt, sorry. That's what Donald Trump did in his businesses and we just can't allow that anymore.

As president, I will accelerate America's transition to a zero-carbon economy. We have as a goal 2050, but quite honestly we can't wait for 2050, we have to get it done a lot quicker than that. Having said that, you've got to start some place.

And my experience in business and in 12 years in city hall running the most progressive city in the country was if you set big long-term goals nothing ever happens. If you set small, achievable goals, you can do them one after another. And it's just amazing when you stop down the road and look back and see the compound affect that can happen, you can get where you want to go with a lot more degree of assurance and a lot quicker. Long-term goals don't stop people from passing the buck and kicking the can down the road.

So we'll focus on getting big things done now – and improving health and creating jobs for Americans today, and we will cut greenhouse emissions across the entire United States by 2030, and that is a realistic goal. To get 100 percent by 2030 probably not going to happen, but we certainly can get halfway there.

At the same time, we're going to invest in new technology that can move us forward as fast as humanly possible to be a 100 percent clean energy economy that we want. Things are just getting worse by the day, we've just got to stop it.

Just think about this: 18 of the last 19 hottest years in recorded history have taken place since 2001. If you do the math, 19 years, 18 of them in one direction – maybe that's a trend.

Farmers in Canada are growing the same crops that we used to grow in Iowa. I was in Iowa a couple months ago and the farmers I talked to more than anything else they were complaining that they had a new competitor up north. Why? Because Canada is today warmer than it used to be.

In California, everybody I'm sure has seen the newspapers and the television footage of wildfires that are getting more destructive, and the wildfire season in California – I was there yesterday, or the day before – the wildfire season is two months longer than it was a century ago. In Georgia, sea levels are 11 inches higher than in the 1950s. Eleven inches is an awful lot.

So things are going in the wrong direction and we've just got to stop it.

By 2045 or 2050, if not before, the consequences of climate change really can be catastrophic. So we have to set immediate goals I talked about.

The truth is, we don't know what technological advancements will occur in the future, but we can accelerate their development.

I gave a commencement speech at MIT – Massachusetts Institute of Technology – this last spring, and MIT is one of the hotbeds of science in the country, it's a great asset for America. I'm very proud of it because I come from Boston, although I did realize I would have never gotten into MIT if I applied so I didn't apply. But I did live 20 minutes away.

And the message that I tried to give them was that the problem is not science. We have the science or we at least know what science to work on and we will get there. The problem is political. We just have to have the will, and we need leaders to pull us together.

I think we have to quadruple our investment in research and development across multiple federal agencies, to work with the private sector to unlock more private capital for clean energy investment, and work on sustainable development.

And we also have to end the war on science that the Trump Administration is waging.

I believe that all these federal agencies whose mission is to study and protect our environment should be managed by independent scientists. It just cannot be a political thing to decide whether or not you do a study: if I let go of this it falls – the science is there, we know about gravity. You just can't start relitigating and reinvestigating every single thing just to stop any progress or to take us back from where we are today.

I know it's a crazy idea, but when I am president you can rest assured scientists will be allowed to do their jobs.

I promise you I will reverse Trump's dangerous rollbacks of rules that protect clean air and our drinking water and our health and safety. Those rollbacks are exposing millions of Americans to pollution and the people who are most at-risk, actually, are low-income Americans in both urban and rural areas because we put our power plants, unfortunately, in areas where they live.

I'll also bring the full resources of the federal agencies to bear in setting aggressive health and safety standards.

Back when I was mayor – seems like a long time ago, but it wasn't that long ago – I did get a chance to see up-close-and-personal the effects that pollution had on kids and families. The worst air pollution in New York City – and in cities across the country – was in Black and Latino neighborhoods. Those kids in those neighborhoods were much more likely to develop asthma than other children.

There's no question about what happened, you'll see who goes to the hospital with an asthma attack. So we really know where the problem is and we know what's causing it. We're just not doing anything about it, and shame on us. Everybody in this country should have good health regardless of what their zip code is.

I don't want to pick on a former mayor of New York City, but John Lindsay – who was mayor back when I first got to New York in the late '60s – John Lindsay said and everybody loved the statement: I wouldn't breathe any air I couldn't see. Now, it's a cute thing, but it doesn't keep your health good, and it's too cute by half we would say.

Across America, there are communities – both urban and rural – who have suffered for generations from the toxic air and poisonous water and fossil-fuel economy produced for so long while Washington looked the other way.

As president, I promise that I will put all of the hardest-hit communities at the top of our priority list, including those that have provided us with coal for generations.

The coal miners are the ones that suffer more than anybody else. Their health is not great so when we say we're going to move them to areas where the jobs are – a lot of them can't do that, and we've got to understand. Our foundation has tried to work to help train Americans for new jobs across the country. Unfortunately, one of the things that the Trump budget did was it cut back retraining for a lot of these programs.

We have to do something, and today communities face the challenge of diversifying their economies – and making the transition to a 21st-century, low-carbon economy. It isn't easy – far from it.

In the weeks ahead, I'll be speaking with mayors and local leaders from these regions, learning from their experiences, asking for their ideas. Adding the experiences that we had in New York in retraining people. People that came to the country and didn't have a great command of the English language, didn't have the skills that our economy needs, and so we know how to do it. It's much more difficult in some areas of the country than in others, so we've got to pull together and figure out a way to do it.

It's outrageous that the coal companies aren't helping, they just use that bankruptcy out that I talked about. But if you hold everybody accountable – including us – we can make some progress.

The issues I outlined today are only the beginning of our climate change agenda – which will also be part of our overall agenda on jobs, and other health issues. I will be rolling that out over the next few weeks. And more than plans, what I'm going to promise, try to show that I can do it, is offer the leadership to get everybody to pull together and to really make progress rather than just complain. That's what leadership is all about.

In New York, not me but the team that I put together had a record for 12 years of building coalitions and turning plans into reality. That team has never been afraid of the toughest battles against President Trump now, and the biggest special interests – whether it is coal industry, gun lobby, or Big Tobacco. In all of those cases, during our administration in the city and after we left city hall, we've taken on all these issues, and so far we've won. We do know how to fight Donald Trump. We've beat him a number of times.

We took on Donald Trump after he said he would pull us out of the Paris Climate Agreement. We formed a group joint with Jerry Brown, the Governor of California who I was with in San Francisco a couple of days ago, to announce that we've made something called America's Pledge saying we are going to step in and replace the federal government, believe it or not. And we've actually done that.

And I was in Madrid three days ago to give our report to the United Nations, which is what the Paris Agreement required us to do to show that we really are making progress. And there's companies and state governments and city governments and nonprofits, all of whom have gotten together and really made a big difference.

So we've got a lot more work to do – and I'm ready to roll up my sleeves and get working. I know you are, too.

I think we should find a way to defeat Donald Trump who keeps trying to drag us backwards. This is not a game. This is not something we should be playing politics with. This is people's lives.

Michael Bloomberg, Remarks on Clean Energy in Alexandria, Virginia Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project

Simple Search of Our Archives