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From Coal to Clean Energy

Philanthropy helps accelerate the transition from dirty coal to clean energy.

Coal emits toxic pollutants that make people sick, contaminate water, and drive planet-warming emissions. To eliminate this major threat, a diverse coalition led by the Sierra Club launched the Beyond Coal Campaign in 2002 to stop proposed new coal plants in the pipeline, retire the existing dirty coal fleet, address the impacts of coal mining, and replace coal with clean energy.

What was initially a state-by-state effort seeded by a group of small foundations grew to a national campaign and collaborative philanthropic investment of more than $250 million as more people joined the fight to bring cleaner energy to their communities and the nation.

This work is now part of a series of global coal campaigns, transforming our energy sector and creating a healthier future. Continuing this progress toward 100 percent clean energy is essential to tackle the climate crisis, provide clean air and water, improve public health, and address environmental justice.

The outcomes of the Beyond Coal Campaign show that taking a risk on a bold idea with strong leadership is a critical role for philanthropy to play.

—Eileen Rockefeller Growald, Growald Family Fund

How Change Happens

Tactics & Tools Philanthropy Made Possible

RESEARCH AND ANALYSES: Many plants were found to be no longer economically viable and highlighted the negative health impacts of coal.

ADVOCACY: Influencing policy leaders was critical, especially at the local level. So was ensuring that coal plant closures were accompanied by support for workers and local economies, as part of a just transition.

GRASSROOTS ORGANIZING: Activists and organizers representing diverse groups united against a common enemy.

TRAINING AND OUTREACH: Lawyers and volunteers learned how to block coal permits and about health and economic impacts. Learnings were shared with other communities.

LEGAL STRATEGIES: Permits were challenged and clean air and water laws enforced to restrict coal projects.

FINANCE: The divestment movement led coal-financing institutions to recognize their risks.


The campaign has stopped more than 200 new coal plants from being built and helped retire two-thirds of the plants operating a decade ago, resulting in significant health, emissions, and clean energy progress.

$14 billion

Plant closures in the U.S. prevented disease and thousands of premature deaths, and saved nearly $14 billion in health care costs.

605 million

By retiring plants and spurring a transition to renewable energy, the campaign helped reduce 605 million metric tons of carbon from the air by 2020—three-quarters of U.S. greenhouse gas reductions in the past decade—and improved air quality and health outcomes for communities nationwide.


Coal’s share of electricity in the U.S. fell from 50 to less than 20 percent, and the U.S. now gets more power from renewable energy than from coal.