July 21, 2011; Source: Time | Besides being the mayor of New York City, Michael Bloomberg is also a billionaire media company owner and philanthropist with his own private foundation. As mayor, he has taken on a number of health issues, attacking smoking in public places and banning fatty acids (trans-fats), to name two.

But those were Bloomberg-the-mayor initiatives. Now, Bloomberg-the-philanthropist has announced that the Bloomberg Foundation will give $50 million over 4 years to the Beyond Coal campaign of the Sierra Club. Bloomberg and the Sierra Club seem to have little hope for “clean coal.” “It’s a dirty fuel,” Bloomberg told Time.

The name of the campaign tells you the meaning. “Beyond coal” isn’t meant to fix coal, but to move the nation past its reliance on the fuel that, according to Time, “is responsible for about 20% of global greenhouse gas emissions.” New EPA regulations about to go into effect are popular with the Sierra Club but unpopular with the coal industry which through conservatives in Congress is attacking the regs as expensive job-killers. “These new regulations will be like a ball and chain wrapped around American families and businesses as they try to crawl out of the great recession,” Steve Miller, the head of the American Coalition for Clean Coal Electricity, told Time.

For Bloomberg, coal “is a public health issue, just like our efforts to stop smoking or help with malaria.” “This industry shouldn’t have carte blanche to pollute the air that we breathe,” Bloomberg said.

Bloomberg is turning out to be a walking, talking model of philanthropic public/private partnership, with the unusual factor of being both in public and private roles simultaneously. He is able to promote and test ideas in the public arena as mayor and he is able to put big money behind nonprofits like the Sierra Club to promote his ideas more widely. To some extent, he is becoming one of America’s most influential philanthropists due to his willingness to put big grants behind public policy issues, even if it means taking on powerful interests such as the coal industry and President Obama who campaigned on a belief in the oxymoronic concept of “clean coal.”—Rick Cohen