UN Special Envoy on Climate Ambition and Solutions Michael R. Bloomberg launched Beyond Petrochemicals: People Over Pollution, a new campaign that aims to halt the rapid expansion of petrochemical and plastic pollution in the United States. Drawing on the success of Beyond Coal, supported by Bloomberg Philanthropies, and Bloomberg’s Beyond Carbon campaign, Beyond Petrochemicals will turbocharge existing efforts led by frontline communities to block the expansion of more than 120 proposed petrochemical projects concentrated in three target geographies – Louisiana, Texas, and the Ohio River Valley. Beyond Petrochemicals will also work to establish stricter rules for existing petrochemical plants to safeguard the health of American communities.
“Petrochemical plants poison our air and water – killing Americans and harming the health of entire communities. And with many heavily polluting new projects planned around the U.S., we’re at a critical moment for stopping them,” said Michael R. Bloomberg, UN Secretary-General’s Special Envoy on Climate Ambition and Solutions and founder of Bloomberg Philanthropies. “Communities around the country are standing up to confront the petrochemical industry and defend their right to clean air and water. 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.”
Bloomberg’s landmark announcement comes on the heels of two powerful wins in the growing fight to stop the rise of toxic pollution from the petrochemical industry: Louisiana’s 19th Judicial District Court’s stunning rejection of Formosa’s enormous “Sunshine” plastic project and the cancellation of the South Louisiana Methanol project. These projects would have been significant emitters of carbon and toxic pollution, and both would have been located near Black communities in St. James Parish, Louisiana, in the heart of “Cancer Alley.”
Beyond Petrochemicals will scale the work being done by frontline groups and aligned organizations who are leading the fight to end petrochemical pollution in these communities, including Beyond Plastics, the Bullard Center at Texas Southern University, Defend Our Health, Earthjustice, Earthworks, Hip Hop Caucus, Louisiana Bucket Brigade, and Rise St. James among others, and will continue to work with additional organizations and leaders to accelerate efforts to halt petrochemical expansion in Louisiana, Texas, and the Ohio River Valley. Resources Legacy Fund will help support Beyond Petrochemical’s partners to achieve the campaign’s goals.
“As a native Louisianan, I understand the horrors of Cancer Alley and the destruction fossil fuel and toxic facilities have caused. I have seen the cost to communities and to our climate of these polluting facilities,” said Rev. Lennox Yearwood, Jr., Beyond Petrochemicals Campaign Chair and CEO of the Hip Hop Caucus. “With Bloomberg’s investment, we can halt the cooking of the planet and poisoning of our communities. As he did with coal, Mike Bloomberg is showing that a world without pollution is possible.”
As the world transitions to clean and renewable energy, demand for oil is projected to shift from trucks, aviation and shipping to petrochemicals. According to the industry’s own estimates, by 2050, petrochemical applications will account for nearly half of the growth in oil demand and will exceed carbon emissions of coal-fired power by 2030.
By building on the powerful foundation established by frontline community organizers and environmental justice leaders, the Beyond Petrochemicals campaign will rest on four key pillars:
Community Leadership: Resource and empower community advocates in the target regions of Louisiana, Texas and the Ohio River Valley to accelerate grassroots power to challenge industrial buildout and enforce environmental and health protections in their own backyards.
Data and Research: Fund necessary studies and deliver accurate data and expert analysis to government and financial decision makers to help advance swift, decisive actions.
Legislation and Litigation: Use the power of the law to protect public health and the climate, including engaging a diverse array of experts and approaches, educating decision-makers about the harms of petrochemicals pollution, and advancing environmental policies.
Stakeholder Engagement: Engage with the public and private sector to improve enforcement of regulations and reduce demand for plastic and petrochemical products.
“After years of deception and delay, it is more important than ever for communities to step in where others have historically stepped back,” said Sharon Lavigne, Founder and President of Rise St. James. “Bloomberg Philanthropies’ Beyond Petrochemicals campaign will help win local fights in places like St. James Parish, Louisiana where we are winning the fight to prevent Formosa Plastics from building a massive multibillion-dollar plastics plant and keep the fossil fuel industry alive.”
If built, the more than 120 proposed petrochemical projects in the U.S. will lock in decades of toxic pollution and greenhouse gas emissions. New research from RMI – supported by Bloomberg Philanthropies – reveals that this expansion would double emissions from the petrochemical and refinery industry to comprise 15% of the total U.S. carbon budget, making it nearly impossible for the U.S. to meet its Paris Agreement climate goals.
“As economic investments move away from fossil fuels for electricity generation and transportation, plastic production has emerged as the Plan B for the fossil fuel industry,” said Judith Enck, former US EPA Regional Administrator and President of Beyond Plastics. “Stopping the construction of petrochemical facilities will combat climate change, protect the health of people living near these plants, and turn off the tap of the billions of pounds of plastic that enter the ocean each year. This philanthropic commitment by Mike Bloomberg is extraordinary and will protect public health, particularly in communities of color.”
The petrochemical industry is also detrimental to public health, where nearby communities experience some of the highest rates of pollution-linked cancer and poor health outcomes. Research from the Bloomberg School of Public Health and the Whiting School of Engineering at Johns Hopkins University uncovered that the EPA underestimates risk of exposure to harmful air pollutants and that residents are frequently inundated with a complex and poorly understood mixture of health hazards.
“We are only at the edge of understanding the true impacts of petrochemical pollution on public health – from cancer and birth defects to long-term chronic disease,” said Dr. Thomas A. Burke, PhD, Professor Emeritus, Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health. “This initiative will provide valuable new data for measuring the toxic chemicals released into our air and water and understanding their impacts on the health of both fence line communities and the broader public.”
“The oil and gas industry is betting on a petrochemical future that is incompatible with a liveable future for communities and a sustainable future for the planet,” said Carroll Muffett, President of the Center for International Environmental Law. “Going Beyond Petrochemicals demands a major and direct investment in the frontline leaders and organizations who are fighting for both, and in the research, litigation, and mobilization to turn frontline action into national transformation. We welcome Bloomberg Philanthropies commitment to making that essential investment.”
“The petrochemical industry has been poisoning people in the Gulf South and Appalachia for generations,” said Abbie Dillen, President of Earthjustice. “Now in the face of clean energy competition, oil and gas companies are trying to stake their future profits in petrochemicals and plastics. Their massive expansion plans would devastate communities that are already hurting, all the while escalating the climate and plastics crises globally. In this enormous fight for the future, Earthjustice is honored to be working with an incredible group of leaders, including Bloomberg Philanthropies. This is the kind of transformative investment that we need to win.”
“We applaud Bloomberg’s investment in environmental health and climate justice for communities on the frontlines of petrochemical pollution,” said Mike Belliveau, Executive Director of Defend Our Health, and Co-Founder of Safer States. “Since eighty percent of petrochemicals are used to make plastics, the Beyond Petrochemicals campaign will prevent plastic pollution at its source. Stopping the industry’s expansion will help hold name-brand companies accountable for slashing demand for plastics, which also threaten consumer health. Big brands must reduce their use of plastics and its chemical footprint across their supply chain. By halting then reversing the rapid growth in plastics production, we will slow climate change, improve human health, deliver environmental justice, and reduce waste. Frontline communities deserve a just transition to good jobs that make safer, more sustainable materials without the use of fossil carbon or toxic chemicals.”
“More than a decade ago Bloomberg Philanthropies put the fossil fuel industry on notice by setting out to retire one-third of U.S. coal plants. With a sustained effort over the next several years the U.S. will close all coal plants by 2030.” said Bruce Nilles, Executive Director of Climate Imperative. “Petrochemicals are the next big fossil fuel fight. This investment builds on Bloomberg Philanthropies’ long-standing track record of putting philanthropic dollars to work on the biggest pollution reduction opportunities and will help put the country and the world on track to move beyond all fossil fuels.”
The Beyond Petrochemicals campaign will leverage the success of Bloomberg Philanthropies’ long-term support for the Beyond Coal and Beyond Carbon campaigns, which have helped retire more than 65% of U.S. coal plants in the past decade and inspired a global movement away from fossil fuels. Powered by thousands of grassroots volunteers, Beyond Coal – with Bloomberg Philanthropies’ support – has been called “the most effective campaign in the Sierra Club’s 123-year history, and maybe the history of the environmental movement.” Working at the state and local levels, Beyond Carbon is accelerating the United States to a 100% renewable energy economy. Additionally, Bloomberg Philanthropies is working to advance clean energy in 32 countries and the EU and close a quarter of the world’s coal plants by 2025.
“After decades of residents’ exposure to toxic pollution that has scarred the health and ecosystems of gulf coast communities, this initiative will finally invest in and support the David and Goliath struggles of residents on the frontlines of fossil fuel facilities to stop the intergenerational impacts on their families, and the expansion of these facilities,” said Peggy Shepard, Executive Director of WE ACT For Environmental Justice.
“The leadership of frontline communities has brought us to this moment of seeing the real impact of the petrochemical industry on people’s lives,” said Heather McTeer Toney with Environmental Defense Fund. “This significant investment in environmental justice from Bloomberg Philanthropies will amplify the work that frontline community leaders have been doing for years to fight back against polluters. Environmental Defense Fund is honored to work alongside our partners on this initiative, adding value to community efforts to secure a just, equitable and healthy future for all.”
“As a child growing up in Louisiana, we were always told that the petrochemical industry was responsible for most of our prosperity,” said Dr. Beverly Wright, Founder and Executive Director of the Deep South Center for Environmental Justice. “What we know now is that this prosperity came with a great price. Those living on the frontlines of the invasive petrochemical industry, mostly poor and predominantly communities of color, have watched neighbors and members of their own families suffer and die from the toxic chemicals these facilities emit into their backyards. Not only has it destroyed our environment and our health, it’s also a major contributor to greenhouse gasses that warm the planet. The Deep South Center for Environmental Justice is excited to partner with the Bloomberg campaign to block the120-plus proposed petrochemical projects. Investments like these give the communities that have been disproportionately impacted by this type of environmental racism a fighting chance.”
“Our frontline communities have suffered too long at the hands of a powerful polluting industry,” said Dr. Robert D. Bullard, Distinguished Professor of Urban Planning and Environmental Policy and Director of the Bullard Center for Environmental & Climate Justice at Texas Southern University. “The time is right for a transformative community driven Beyond Petrochemical campaign, and it’s the right thing to do. The Bullard Center is thrilled to be a partner in this campaign.”
“For three generations, my family has lived and worked in the shadow of the petrochemical industry here in Houston,” said Jennifer M. Hadayia, Executive Director, Air Alliance Houston. “They go to work every day knowing that a disaster is always possible. Not only do these plants catch themselves on fire and blow themselves up, but they also repeatedly violate the Clean Air Act and are rarely held accountable by Texas’ regulatory agencies. The Beyond Petrochemicals campaign will bring much needed investment and attention to helping those of us on the frontline and the fence line push back against these harmful polluters.”
“Petrochemicals are the root of both the climate crisis and the plastic pollution epidemic, both of which create existential threats to ocean ecosystems and people’s lives,” said Jacqueline Savitz, Chief Policy Officer, Oceana. “It’s well past time to address this industry head-on, and we commend Bloomberg Philanthropies for recognizing the urgent need to do so and boldly taking on this ambitious effort.”
“Now is the moment to invest in a regenerative economy driven by local leadership, one that recognizes that jobs and security come from people being given the tools needed to innovate and thrive,” said Veronica Coptis, Executive Director of Center for Coalfield Justice (rural southwestern Pennsylvania). “As the petrochemical industry extracts our communities’ labor and resources, leaving nothing behind but toxic pollution and illness, it is more important than ever to build the kind of power that can challenge their status quo.”
“As a community advocate who has been engaged in the fight against the proposed petrochemical buildout for the Ohio River Valley for years, I wholeheartedly embrace Michael Bloomberg’s Beyond Petrochemical Campaign,” said Jill Hunkler, community advocate and seventh-generation Ohio Valley resident. “It is a dream come true to have this kind of investment in our region. Not only will the Ohio River Valley be subjected to the pollution from the proposed petrochemical buildout, but it will also drastically increase the oil and gas infrastructure which has already proven to be disastrous for our environment and public health. The approach outlined in the Bloomberg campaign with its focus on empowering grassroots movements, legislation and litigation engagement, and funding the necessary research which then can be translated into a sound educational process, is solid and will pave the way for success.”
“We have reached a pivotal moment in our fight for environmental justice in our beautiful river parishes of South Louisiana,” said Kaitlyn Joshua, Louisiana Gulf Coast Campaigner at Earthworks. “The community of St. James Parish deserves clean air, water and soil, and by stopping the air permits of the Formosa Plastics plant, it shows that we do have the power to build a case and stop bad industries from coming into our neighborhoods. We just have to keep that momentum going.”
“The amazing work to defeat these petrochemical plants is so inspiring for those of us across the globe, including in Texas. Formosa Plastics wants to expand their Point Comfort facility on the Texas coast. We look forward to working with local opponents and many others to keep this polluter at bay,” said Robin Schneider, Executive Director of Texas Campaign for the Environment.
“For too long communities in the Ohio River Valley have been strung along by the false economic promises of the oil and gas and petrochemical sector,” shared Joanne Kilgour, Executive Director of the Ohio River Valley Institute. “This welcome announcement from the Bloomberg Philanthropies’ Beyond Petrochemicals campaign should signal to all regional policymakers that it is time to reject these financially unsound petrochemical-to-plastics schemes once and for all, and embrace new, diverse strategies for more resilient local economies and healthier communities.”
“Over the last decade, government agencies have issued permits allowing the largest petrochemical and liquefied gas plants to release nearly 200 million tons of global warming gases every year, along with more than 100,000 tons of other air contaminants next to communities already overburdened with pollution,” said Eric Schaeffer, Executive Director of the Environmental Integrity Project. “But the Louisiana court’s rejection of the permit for the giant Formosa complex last week, thanks to Sharon Lavigne and the determined citizens of St. James Parish, shows how much communities can accomplish when they stand up for their rights.”
“We are at a key moment to begin a just transition out of plastics,” said Neil Tangri, PhD, Policy Director for GAIA. “Strong policies are needed to dramatically phase down plastic production and prevent the petrochemical industry from evading its responsibility with false solutions like so-called “chemical recycling” and plastic neutrality schemes. We have an opportunity to move towards a sustainable, zero waste economy that creates jobs in reuse, reduces greenhouse gas emissions, and avoids fenceline communities’ and consumers’ exposure to toxic plastic pollution.”
“As frontline battles against petrochemical expansion intensify and escalate in the U.S., it is also important to ensure that the injustices and transgressions associated with these polluting projects are not transferred elsewhere, particularly in the global south. Pollution anywhere is pollution everywhere, and we need to be investing in local leaders as the champions and protectors of their communities,” said Von Hernandez, Global Coordinator of Break Free From Plastic.
Bloomberg Philanthropies invests in 941 cities and 173 countries around the world to ensure better, longer lives for the greatest number of people. The organization focuses on five key areas for creating lasting change: the Arts, Education, Environment, Government Innovation, and Public Health. Bloomberg Philanthropies encompasses all of Michael R. Bloomberg’s giving, including his foundation, corporate, and personal philanthropy as well as Bloomberg Associates, a pro bono consultancy that works in cities around the world. In 2021, Bloomberg Philanthropies distributed $1.66 billion.