Payne: Calling to counter coal

This is the time to play the Yale card. Wall Street giant Stephen Schwarzman, CEO of the private equity firm Blackstone Group, graduated from Yale in 1969, is an active supporter of the University and has served as an adjunct professor at the School of Management.

He is also heavily invested in the construction of three new coal plants. In 2007, Blackstone Group purchased an 80 percent ownership in Sithe Global, an energy company that plans to construct coal-fired power plants in Pennsylvania, Nevada, and New Mexico. At a time when every new coal plant will mean a larger sea-level rise, more species lost and more refugees in the coming decades, Blackstone Group has more proposed coal projects than any other company in the United States.

Schwarzman has a choice. He can either profit from the destabilization of our climate, or he can demonstrate his commitment to our generation and to the generations to come by withdrawing funding for these three coal plants.

These projects are not popular. Communities around the proposed plant sites are already calling for Schwarzman to pull funding. Their voices are joined by national groups like the Sierra Club and the Natural Resources Defense Council, but Schwarzman has not responded.

So Yale must use its voice.

Schwarzman’s ties to the University will make him hear its words more clearly. But making Yale speak depends upon all of us — students, faculty, staff and administrators. Some claim that because Schwarzman has donated money to Yale in the past, and may do so in the future, we have no right to speak. I say that because he has given to us, we have an obligation to do so. Silent acceptance of those gifts is complicity in the construction of those coal plants. Yale must now assert its sustainable identity or see it deeply compromised.

As a member of the Yale Student Environmental Coalition and its working group Students Against New Coal I ask you to join us in calling on Schwarzman to withdraw his support of the proposed coal plants and invest instead in renewable energy. Despite his investments in coal we should remember that Schwarzman could easily become a hero in the renewable energy sector. The Nevada and New Mexico plants are planned for an area with some of the greatest potential for solar energy in the country. In fact, for less money than he’s committed to the New Mexico plant, he could support several renewable energy projects that would generate the same amount of energy. The Pennsylvania plant is intended for Clearfield County, which has been highly rated as a site for wind power projects. Our message to him today is simple: withdraw funding for new coal, and use your wealth to help build the green economy.

This Saturday is the International Day of Climate Action, or 350 Day. People in 169 countries, in 4,062 separate actions, will call on their leaders to commit to cut global carbon dioxide concentrations to 350 parts per million. The campaign for 350 is about rejecting compromise and committing ourselves to the work necessary for preserving a livable climate. It is a platform from which we can demand action from Wall Street as well. The whole world would suffer from the expansion of the coal industry. And the poorest in the world, who are not equipped to deal with rising sea levels, crop failures, hurricanes or cyclones, will suffer most of all. The time has come for Yale to speak: no new investment in coal.

Rachel Payne is a sophomore in Saybrook College.


  • mr09

    Instead of demanding unrealistic measures from a company that has already invested hundreds of millions in this venture, why not convey a more practical tone of communication. There are many cutting-edge ways to sequester CO2 emissions from coal-fired power plants. Perhaps Yale could collaborate with Blackstone and propose a solid game-plan to implement different CO2 trapping technologies at each site along with a conservative price estimate for additional costs AND benefits.

  • hubersamj

    Great article, Rachel! More students should come check out Students Against New Coal on Thursday nights.

  • Hieronymus

    I am with you hubersamj! I, too, think nuclear is The. Way. To. Go.

  • @Hieronymus

    What biting criticism! What searing sarcasm!

    Oh wait, nuclear isn’t the only alternative to coal (even if you think it’s the only feasible one, being against coal empirically does not mean advocacy of nuclear).

    Straw-manning is not wit; it’s not even proper argument.

  • wrong

    I don’t have the time to write against most of the arguments here, but the author really needs some education; go take Mendholsen’s Natural Resource Economics and Nordhaus’s Economics of Energy and Climate Change and then go read some EIA documents. Coal is not dirty, but a fairly clean fuel, especially in its present forms. Most new coal plants are focused on using cleaner coal, and even lignite plants are cleaning the coal prior to burning. The author proposes alternative energy sources as a solution. I am sorry, but do you value the reliability of the grid? Alternative sources are great, but they are not a base load solution; the sun does not shine and the wind does not blow all the time. As a result, we will always need the base load coal plants as well as the nat gas and diesel generators. Please, read some literature about this.

  • mr09

    to wrong:
    the sun and nuclear energy are both base load solutions. look at some physical equations at the amount of energy released from these processes; however, we do not have the ideal technology to efficiently utilize more energy from the sun and there are still many stigmatisms with nuclear energy and the slow decomposing waste it generates.

  • @ Wrong

    I happened to take those classes but came away about half as cocky as you. Nordhaus also never mentioned clean coal. That wasn’t a topic, you dingus.

    Anyways, I recommend YOU do more research on Blackstone group and what coal actually does. And most importantly, look at the trend of energy consumption in the US and ask yourself exactly where that comes from.