Central Banks Have a $12 Billion Coal Problem They Must Solve The world’s leading central banks own more than $12 billion in bonds and stocks exposed to coal, according to a new report from a London-based think tank. If those assets aren’t purged, it puts the banks in financial peril, as countries transition to cleaner energy, the report concludes. (Bloomberg)

Coal Plants Across the U.S. are Closing. Here Are the Ones Left in the West Coal power plant closures rang in the new year at an astounding rate, with plants in Montana, Arizona and New Mexico all set to shut down this year. Yet despite economic and political pressures to shed coal use, a handful of western utilities continue to operate coal plants with no plans to decommission them, the LA Times reports.  (Los Angeles Times) While utilities in other states have promised to collaborate with stakeholders in such resource planning work, it often has resulted in little, according to Elizabeth Katt Reinders, a deputy director for the Sierra Club’s Beyond Coal campaign. “This substantive analysis of their full fleet is the first critical step to getting early coal-fired retirements,” Katt Reinders said. “We feel very optimistic that this analysis will point to what we’ve been calling for, and that’s an accelerated transition from coal to clean energy.”

The agreement stipulates that the study will begin by Feb. 1, wrap up by Dec. 31, and feature regular meetings with stakeholders. It also specifies that the utility will run a “reasonable” number of models and file its results with state regulators.  The Sierra Club, Iowa Environmental Council and Environmental Law & Policy Center have already hired consultants to analyze the economics of Interstate’s coal plants. Two separate studies concluded that the company’s ratepayers are paying excessive amounts to operate coal-fired plants when power needs could be met less expensively with new renewable generation sources. The agency’s plan calls for spending 65% of the money on electrification. Half of the $23.5 million funding round will help pay for electric transit buses, electric school buses, trucks, airport ground support equipment and forklifts. The phase two plan does that, state officials say, while stretching the budget and providing opportunities in areas where electric solutions might be too expensive or otherwise not feasible. On carbon emissions, though, the improvement is incremental. Critics say each new fossil fuel-burning vehicle will lock in continued emissions for 10 to 20 years, making it more difficult for the state to meet its climate goals.  “We’re not disputing the fact new diesel engines are much cleaner than old diesel engines, but they’ll still pollute more because they’re diesel,” said Joshua Houdek, land use and transportation manager for the Sierra Club. “We have to do more because transportation is the biggest cause of climate change nationally and in Minnesota.” “There is no sound policy reason to continue to support fossil-based technologies,” Kim Havey, sustainability director for the city of Minneapolis, wrote in comments to the pollution control agency. The state should avoid an incremental switch to electrification, Houdek said, and the settlement money is a great opportunity to accelerate that transition since it doesn’t come from taxpayers and agency officials have greater freedom to invest in more expensive zero-emission electric vehicles.

Minneapolis and St. Paul leaders also argued that a greater share of the money should be spent in economically disadvantaged areas that have suffered the highest levels of pollution. They said the draft plan calls for too much spending on infrastructure that mainly benefits highway drivers.

“If we are to begin to address the harm to residents living in areas most impacted by pollution, we must ensure resources are directed to those communities in alignment with MPCA’s environmental justice framework,” Havey said.

Havey said at least some phase two money should fund chargers in multifamily buildings and “Green Zone” neighborhoods. The agency should also increase the grant limit for electric school buses from $80,000 to as much as $250,000, depending on the income level of the school district, he said.  Sometimes said explicitly, sometimes sort of sotto voce, which is like, “Look, let’s just save the planet first and then we’ll deal with, you know, racism and inequality and gender exclusion and sort of just wait your turn.” And that doesn’t go over very well because for people who are on the front lines of all of those other crises, they’re all existential. I mean, if you can’t feed your kids, if you’re losing your house, if you are facing violence, all of it is existential.

And so, we just have to accept that we live in a time of multiple overlapping intersecting crises and we have to figure out how to multitask, which means we need to figure out how to lower emissions in line with what scientists are telling us, which is really fast. And we need to do it in a way that builds a fair economy in the process. Because if we don’t, people are so overstressed and overburdened because of 40 years of neoliberal policy, that when you introduce the kinds of carbon-centric policies that try to pry this crisis apart from all the others, what that actually looks like is you’re going to pay more for gas, you’re going to pay more for electricity. We’re just going to have a market-based response. And so, it’s perceived as just one more thing that is making life impossible.

And the big boys will get away with it because they have expensive lawyers as they always do.

Right. And that sense of injustice, I think, animated the yellow vest movement in France, and you know that slogan, “You care about the end of the world. We care about the end of the month.” But I’ve heard versions of that for years where it’s like, “Well, we can’t deal with climate change because we have to put food on the table right now, we’re in a crisis.” And so if we don’t figure out a way to deal with climate change that doesn’t ask people to choose between the need to put food on the table, the need to care about the end of the month and the need to safeguard the living systems on which all of life depends, we’re going to lose.

And give them some sense that they’re living in a just society. So, what is Chico doing?

That sense of inequality is really key and it’s an important lesson of history because if we look at other moments when societies have changed very quickly, the original New Deal is one. Another one is the mobilization during the Second World War where people accepted rationing, accepted severe restrictions on the use of private vehicles because there was a limited amount of fuel. It was so central to those campaigns in the U.S. and in Britain that there be fairness that you had to see. This isn’t just regular working people who are being asked to change. Celebrities are having to change. Big corporations are having to change.

“Fair shares for all,” was one of the slogans. “Share, and share alike,” was another one. And we’ve never put justice at the center of our response to climate change at a governmental level. Of course, the environmental justice movement has been demanding this for decades, but our policies have never centered it. And I think that’s a big part of the reason people reject it.

f we decarbonize our economies very, very quickly, we can avoid those worst outcomes, or at least we hope we can. But what we know is that the future is rocky. The future has more of these types of disasters, more displacement. The future does mean that more people are going to be living on less land.

So how are we going to live together on less land without turning on each other? That is an absolutely central debate we need to have. Because what we’re actually seeing are a lot of politicians — including Donald Trump, but not just Trump — who are coming to power with their response, which is, “We’re going to fortress our borders. We’re going to create these scapegoats; we’re going to hoard what’s left. We’re going to protect our own.” I call this climate barbarism, but I think the right already has their response to the fact that we are entering this period, we’re in this period of mass displacement. What’s our response?

Are there places that you’re excited about?

I’ve been on the road for a couple of months now, talking with people who are trying to do this locally in cities like Austin [and] Seattle. Teresa Mosqueda is part of this council that passed a resolution calling for Seattle to have a Green New Deal with the boldest targets that we’ve ever seen from a city that already has a green reputation. But the significance of it is, the extent to which they’re not just centering justice, but holding themselves accountable to it. And this is what’s very interesting about the Seattle example in their Green [New] Deal resolution that passed unanimously through council; they called for a board to be created that will hold them to their commitments.

And on that board are eight members of front-line communities — activists from communities, mostly communities of color that have the dirty industries in their backyards, that are on the front lines of the impact, as well as climate scientists, as well as your more traditional green groups and trade unionists. Now that, I’ve never seen — having that many activists holding their representatives accountable. So that’s a model that I think we need to look at and say, “Okay, what would that look like in New York? What would that look like in Washington?”

… we saw on the platform a multiracial group of people talking, but the analysis of the role that white supremacy and slavery and incarceration were playing wasn’t integrated into the analysis.

It wasn’t strong enough. We didn’t have that as coherent analysis as informed by racial capitalism and theorists like Cedric Robinson.

…You started with saying natural human instincts were kind of broken by reality, by the condition of lives that we’ve made through our priority-setting at the government level. In a sense, I’m hearing we need to reclaim our gut instincts about things.

Well, I think what we need to do is figure out what are the policies that light up the best parts of ourselves, because we are complicated…. We are that person that rushes in to the disaster zone with everything we can carry and just wanting to help. And we are that person who just wants to hoard….

Don’t take too much.

… And protect. And different policies light up different parts of ourselves. And when you have a society in which economic precarity and competition are rampant, you light up the hoard and you suppress the share. And there are policies that create a baseline level of security. And this is why it is so important that we are talking about Medicare for All, we are talking about everybody’s right to education at every level. We are talking about the right to a living wage. We are talking about putting in policies that address that core insecurity that allow people to feel like they don’t just have to hoard. Because we’re going to be tested, and we are already being tested. And so, we have to figure out what kind of people are we going to be and what policies will help us be our best selves.

This interview has been lightly edited for clarity and length.