Billionaires Toast to Merrill Lynch's Investment in Coal-Fired Power Plants

| Thu Feb. 22, 2007 7:20 PM EST

The Billionaires for Coal had a grand old time cavorting outside Merill Lynch in downtown San Francisco yesterday. Toasting with champagne glasses, tossing out one-liners, they sneered at a group of earnest, banner-waving protesters nearby. Just a few pairs of hipster sneakers and some scruffy facial hair poked out from under the Billionaires' suits, top hats, and cocktail dresses.

"Why travel to the tropics when we can bring the tropics to us?" asked Jodie van Horn. In real life she's an activist with Rainforest Action Network, but as a Billionaire she goes by Alata Monie. "We'll convert our winter properties to summer properties, and our summer properties to scuba properties."

"It's Darwinian: Survival of the Richest," said Levana Saxon, also known as Debbie Tont, wearing a jeweled barrette and strappy stilettos.

Across the courtyard, their fellow activists were staging a protest of Merrill Lynch's financing of 11 new coal-fired power plants in Texas, a more than $10 billion project.

The Billionaires presumed to be ready for a cocktail party with executives. Unfortunately, Merrill Lynch had locked the glass doors and was routing all employees through a restaurant on the side of the building. Many of the businesspeople glanced over once as they walked past but quickly turned away.

"Seventy-eight billion tons of greenhouse gases," preached Brianna Cay Cotter.

"Huzzah!" cheered the Billionaires. "More warming, less species!"

One problem is that coal emits more carbon dioxide than any other fuel source, except peat and raw wood. And though a new technology called gasification could keep more carbon out of the air, TXU plans to stick to a cheaper, conventional method called pulverization, according to the New York Times.

The new plants will emit more greenhouse gasses than 21 states or several countries—as much carbon dioxide as the annual emissions of 14 million American cars, according to the Rainforest Action Network.

But the Billionaires just fired back witty barbs.

"Rainforest Action Network? We can have more rainforest right here in San Francisco!" said one. "My daughter could buy RAN with her allowance," said van Horn.

While RAN staged similar protests across the country, a panel of judges yesterday delayed hearings for six of the plants to the summer in order to grant opponents time to prepare their case.

As Marc Gunther of Fortune writes, "Merrill Lynch talks a good game when it comes to saving the earth," claiming in their online "Environmental Sustainability Policy," "We are committed to a policy of environmental excellence…. We hold an annual Renewable Energy Conference…. We have sought to reduce energy consumption and emissions by an average of 2% annually."

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