What the Sierra Club has done with its “Beyond Coal” campaign is pretty impressive, making a huge swath of the American public aware of the health and environmental issues associated with coal-fired power plants – not only their CO2 emissions, but also their heavy metals, SOx, NOx, etc. It’s really one of the most effective public education efforts I can remember.
But what does success in community awareness really mean? How, if at all, does this translate into change? Just because Big Coal is reviled by our society doesn’t affect the bottom line too much; ask Big Tobacco if you think I’m wrong here. What’s more, Big Coal is using and expanding its powers granted it by the U.S. Supreme Court decision “Citizens United,” in which corporations have the right to spend as much money as they want influencing our elections. Here’s an email I just received, calling for me to sign a petition (which I did) urging reform here:
This is pretty crazy: There’s a Big Coal CEO demanding the right to donate as much as he wants in an election cycle.
But even crazier: The Supreme Court is actually taking him seriously. This could be the next Citizens United. [1, 2]
The CEO’s name is Shaun McCutcheon. His case would end campaign finance law as we know it — and the top Senate Republican, Mitch McConnell, is on board, eager for all that coal cash.  If they get their way, corporate polluters will be able to buy more politicians and elections than ever before, launching a brutal assault on all the environmental progress we’ve made together.
But there is good news: Several leaders in Congress are standing up and fighting back. These lawmakers are pushing for major reforms that would reduce the amount of dirty money in politics — and with the Supreme Court considering the McCutcheon case, that work has never been more important.
McCutcheon’s Supreme Court case, which the justices are considering right now, is just the beginning — imagine a system where billionaires could just keep giving and giving. As the U.S. solicitor general told the Court, take away those limits and “Less than 500 people can fund the whole shooting match. The government will be run of, by, and for those 500 people.”  These are the people trying to replace our democracy with their dollars, and our health and climate with their profit. We must stop them in their tracks.
McCutcheon is the CEO of Coalmont Electrical Development in Alabama. He filed his lawsuit with the Republican National Committee, and Senator McConnell jumped at the chance to join them. McConnell, who’s up for re-election, is one of the biggest coal champions in the country, and he couldn’t be more excited to take all that dirty money — even sending his lawyers to join McCutcheon at the Supreme Court.
Environmental champion Senator Bernie Sanders took a different approach outside the Court that day, and told it like it is: “Freedom of speech, in my view, does not mean the freedom to buy the United States government.” 
We can turn the tide. Our allies on this in Congress, known as the DARE task force, want to “disclose, amend, reform and elect.”  They’re fighting for several critical changes: overturn Citizens United, provide more public campaign financing by matching small donors, block efforts to stop Americans from voting, and require donor disclosure for political front groups like those run by Karl Rove and the Koch Brothers.
Go get ‘em, guys.
1. Lessig, Lawrence (2013 September 26). “The Court Case That Pivots on What ‘Corrupt’ Really Means.” The Daily Beast.
2. AFL-CIO staff (2012 March 14). “Restoring Democracy.” AFL-CIO.
3. Blumenthal, Paul (2013 October 3). “Mitch McConnell Will Ask Supreme Court To Scrap Campaign Contribution Limits Entirely.” Huffington Post.
4. Finnie, Hannah (2013 October 30). “McCutcheon v. FEC: Why Money Isn’t Speech.” PolicyMic.
5. Bernie Sanders press staff (2013 October 8). “Sanders Ties Government Shutdown to Billionaire Donors as High Court Weighs Campaign Funding Law.” The office of Senator Bernie Sanders.
6. Blumenthal, Paul (2012 August 1). “DARE Campaign Finance Reform Endorsed By Nancy Pelosi, Other House Dems.” Huffington Post.