|a typical Wyo. coal train is about 1 mile long|
The movement has attracted the support of billionaire politician, Michael Bloomberg, who has pledged $50 million of his own money to support the work of Beyond Coal, a national campaign at the Sierra Club that helped coordinate the efforts of local activists. Bloomberg has good reason to get involved because coal pollution kills 13,000 people every year and costs the US $100 billion in medical expenses related to respiratory problems. Stopping the construction of 166 new coal burning power plants amounts to keeping an estimated 32.25 billion tons of CO₂ from entering the atmosphere. Rather than wait for a deadlocked Congress to pass cap and trade legislation, environmentalists looked for a way to do something constructive about climate change. Stopping "King Coal" may be the most significant environmental victory since 1970 when a Republican President, Richard Nixon, signed the Clean Air and Clean Water Acts into law.
Beginning in Iowa, activists focused on the permitting process of a few high-profile plants, hoping a local victory could be the start of a larger, nationwide campaign. The state regulatory board was pressured by local activists to limit the amount of money a new coal plant could cost consumers. Denied a blank check from the state treasury, the utility company cancelled the Iowa plant projects. The same format of informed advocacy during the permit process and public pressure on state politicians who can be more easily lobbied was repeated in other states. After significant success, Beyond Coal is now looking forward to a more difficult task, that of closing existing coal-fired power plants. Its first success, in Washington state, could be a model for future negotiations. Trans-Alta, owner of the state's only coal plant, agreed to a ten year timeline for the plant's closure. Environmentalists agreed to a longer phase out to satisfy objections from the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers. The agreement provided for utility subsidized retraining of the plant's unionized workers in greener energy technologies.