photo by Ralph Alswang, Center for American Progress (Flickr CC)

New York City’s long-serving mayor Michael Bloomberg has a history of highlighting the “public health” aspects of political issues: tobacco, trans-fats, handguns and now coal.

Far from a leftist, the pro-business, social liberal, mega-rich philanthropist and media tycoon is neither George Soros nor Silvio Berlusconi, but he’s got a few things in common with both.

Bloomberg, once a Democrat, then a Republican and now an Independent, has come out hard against coal. But his latest move is not a political power play – it’s a charitable donation to the Sierra Club’s Beyond Coal campaign. A cool $50 million (€35m) charitable donation.

From Time Magazine:

This is a public health issue, just like our efforts to stop smoking or help with malaria. The pollutants and the toxins are a big problem.

–NYC Mayor Michael Bloomberg

Beyond Coal has already helped to block the construction of over 150 coal plants around the US, largely from changing its focus from climate change to public health. It’s a win no matter what the language, and while the coal lobby can attempt (and succeed) to confuse Americans about the reality of climate change, they’d be hard pressed to claim coal soot didn’t cause health problems. A study by the Clean Air Task Force determined that fine particles from coal pollution contributed to 13,000 deaths last year.

There is also solid political action against coal in the US. The US Environmental Protection Agency is tightening its regulations on coal – regulations the EPA claims will prevent some 34,000 premature deaths per year.

Check Time Magazine and the Washington Post for more on the story.