Bloomberg poses with Oscar the Grouch during a summit in New York City on Wednesday.Photo: Bruce Gilbert (AP)
Michael Bloomberg is taking on plastic producers. The billionaire announced Wednesday that he will launch a $85 million campaign to fight against the expansion of the petrochemical industry.
The campaign, called Beyond Petrochemicals, will focus on three regions of the country—Louisiana, Texas and the Ohio River Valley—that have been particularly hit in recent years by new petrochemical plants and planned expansions. The money will go to help groups fight against more than 120 projects across these three regions, as well as advocating for stricter rules and regulations around the industry, the campaign said in a press release.
“Communities around the country are standing up to confront the petrochemical industry and defend their right to clean air and water,” Bloomberg said in the release. “This campaign will help ensure more local victories, support laws that protect communities from harm, and reduce the greenhouse gas emissions that are fueling the climate crisis.”
The petrochemical industry, which primarily relies on oil and gas as its feedstock to make plastics and other products, has become a new frontier for fossil fuel companies looking to find new markets for their products. The world’s explosion of plastic use is expected to drive half of all demand for fossil fuels by 2050. The petrochemical industry has been particularly aggressive in expanding its presence in communities of color and lower-income communities, who find themselves on the front lines of the pollution and waste that come with these facilities.
“It’s good news for the Gulf,” Anne Rolfes, the executive director of the Louisiana Bucket Brigade, an organization that works to protect fenceline communities from the oil, gas, and chemical industries, told Earther in an email. “While we have managed to stop projects and defend ourselves, the Bloomberg money will add crucial support to strengthen and grow our work. We need it now more than ever, as our Governor, Congressional delegation and local elected officials do all they can to prop up the fossil fuel industry. It’s past time to transition, and Bloomberg support to the Gulf will help us achieve that goal.”
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The largely grassroots campaign against the petrochemical industry in these regions has seen some welcome successes in recent weeks. Just last week, a Louisiana judge vacated air permits for a massive proposed plastics plant owned by petrochemical giant Formosa Plastics, further stalling construction of the enormous project—which would be one of the largest plastics plants in the world and would release tons of toxic air pollutants each year on the primarily Black community nearby. And earlier this month, the deadline passed for a proposed methanol facility in Louisiana, which would have been the largest in the country, to submit additional development plans for review to state environmental agencies; the proposed plant was the target of lawsuits and activism from various grassroots organizations, including the Bucket Brigade.
Bloomberg’s money looms large in the climate community, and his investment can signal a shift in attention to a new issue from mainstream activists. In 2011, the billionaire launched the successful Beyond Coal campaign with the Sierra Club, which as of 2020 had successfully helped retire 60% of the U.S.’s remaining coal plants. (Some activists have pointed out that the majority of the plants the campaign targeted switched to natural gas, creating a reliance on a different fossil fuel rather than a clean transition altogether.) In 2019, Bloomberg Philanthropies launched a larger campaign called Beyond Carbon, aimed to “drive the transition away from coal and gas and toward clean energy alternatives.”
$85 million is a lot of cash, for sure, though Bloomberg is one of the richest people on the planet, worth some $76.8 billion. This focus back on environmental causes comes after a failed 2020 presidential campaign, in which Bloomberg spent more than $1 billion on just 100 days of campaigning and failed to capture energy from climate activists on the left. If Bloomberg is going to spend money like it’s nothing, it’s good that he’s redirecting it toward halting Big Oil’s hand.