"Petrochemical plants poison our air and water — killing Americans and harming the health of entire communities," said Bloomberg, who is also a United Nations special envoy on climate. "And with many heavily polluting new projects planned around the U.S., we're at a critical moment for stopping them.
"This campaign will help ensure more local victories, support laws that protect communities from harm and reduce the greenhouse gas emissions that are fueling the climate crisis," he said.
The campaign said it would focus in four areas: community leadership; funding data and research on pollution to present to governments and financial institutions; legislation and litigation; and stakeholder engagement "to improve enforcement of regulations and reduce demand for plastic and petrochemical products."
In a statement, the American Chemistry Council said the Bloomberg campaign was based on "unfounded environmental concerns."
"Members of the chemistry industry do not throw stones — we create solutions," said Chris Jahn, ACC president and CEO. "As the science behind sustainability, chemistry is the single most important element to transitioning to renewable energy and combating climate change.
"Nothing the environmental community wishes to achieve on climate can be accomplished without chemistry," he said, pointing to manufacturing of lithium-ion batteries, solar cells, wind turbines, energy-efficient insulation and windows as well as lightweight materials for cars.
Jahn suggested the Bloomberg campaign was part of a fundraising effort.
"Regretfully, characterizing industry in a negative light has proven too lucrative of a fundraising strategy for some activists, while others recognize immense value of partnership, hard work, and collaboration," Jahn said. "We encourage the NGO [nongovernmental organization] community to put fundraising rhetoric aside and join us in maximizing chemistry's potential to solve the world's sustainability challenges while continuing to safeguard the communities where we live, work and play."
But environmental groups involved in plastics debates said in the Bloomberg announcement that the support would help them press their case.
"Bloomberg Philanthropies' Beyond Petrochemicals campaign will help win local fights in places like St. James Parish, La., where we are winning the fight to prevent Formosa Plastics from building a massive multibillion-dollar plastics plant and keep the fossil fuel industry alive," said Sharon Lavigne, founder and president of Rise St. James
Judith Enck, president of Beyond Plastics and a former Environmental Protection Agency regional administrator, said petrochemical companies are growing more interested in plastics investments as they see the broader economy shifting away from fossil fuels for electricity generation and transportation.
"Stopping the construction of petrochemical facilities will combat climate change, protect the health of people living near these plants and turn off the tap of the billions of pounds of plastic that enter the ocean each year," Enck said. "This philanthropic commitment by Mike Bloomberg is extraordinary and will protect public health, particularly in communities of color."
In its announcement, Bloomberg Philanthropies pointed to research it said showed that EPA underestimates risks of exposures to harmful air pollutants. As well, it said the 120-plus new factories would double emissions from the petrochemical and refinery industries and push them to 15 percent of the U.S. carbon budget, making it "nearly impossible" for the U.S. to meet targets in the Paris climate accord.
The group Climate Imperative said in the announcement that another Bloomberg Philanthropies' decision more than a decade ago to push to close one-third of U.S. coal plants "put the fossil fuel industry on notice."
"Petrochemicals are the next big fossil fuel fight," said Bruce Nilles, executive director of Climate Imperative.
But the head of the Plastics Industry Association called the campaign "misguided."
"If Mr. Bloomberg is interested in addressing plastic waste, he should add his funding to the billions of dollars of investments made by the plastics industry to support programs that recycle and reuse plastic," said Matt Seaholm, president and CEO of the association.
"Mr. Bloomberg says he wants to help people, but it couldn't be more clear that plastic is what saves lives and improves our quality of life," he said. "We are working hard on implementing solutions to the challenges Mr. Bloomberg identifies, but his misguided campaign will create more problems than it solves."