How One Foundation is Fighting the "War on Coal"

Coal has taken a beating lately, mainly from historic new EPA restrictions on carbon emissions. But foundations and nonprofits have been working for years to crack down on the country’s biggest source of global warming pollution. Mertz Gilmore is one of them. 

Coal is pretty much the opposite of clean energy. Coal-fired power plants produce about 40 percent of the electricity in the United States, but cough up the overwhelming majority of our CO2 emissions, and cause acid rain, smog and respiratory disease. 

Although the Obama Administration has been targeted by the coal industry as leading a “war on coal,” mainly due to the EPA regulations, there are several groups and foundations that have been working for years to go much further in reducing our use of coal and replacing it with renewables.

Mertz Gilmore, a smallish family funder established in New York in 1959, is one of these foundations, making a steady stream of grants to groups working to wean the country off the little black rocks. In fact, Mertz Gilmore was one of the earlier philanthropies fighting climate change, starting back in 1984. Today, one of the funder’s three climate strategies is promoting alternatives to coal plants. 

That giving covers a handful of strategies, and funds groups with a variety of motives and methods. The foundation supports groups working at a bare minimum to enforce pollution standards, all the way up to campaigns against specific plants or groups of plants. But since we have to keep the lights on, growing renewable energy in communities historically reliant on coal power is a big priority. Not surprisingly, giving is focused in the Southeast, with a preference for projects that leverage partnerships.

As of May, the funder had given about a half a million in 2014 to its alternatives to coal program, with grants hovering in the mid-five figures. To get an idea of the variety, Mertz Gilmore is funding an investigative research project on the harmful effects of coal ash. It’s also funding the Kentucky Coalition for a campaign targeting a rural utility to start planning long term for more renewables. One grant supports efforts to develop offshore wind off the East Coast. And another is funding efforts to transition labor in communities where plants are closing. And a recurring focus has been the pursuit of legal strategies to reduce emissions from coal plants.

Learn more about Mertz Gilmore at our full IP profile here, and profile of Vice President Lukas Haynes here.