President Trump is pushing a new bailout of the troubled coal industry that makes no economic sense and perverts the concept of national security even though most of the energy industry opposes it, all to try and keep his failed promise to save coal mining.
Trump ordered Energy Secretary Rick Perry to act immediately to stop the closure of coal-fired electricity generation plants and some nuclear-powered plants claiming that it is a matter of national security because closures will put the nations electric grid at risk, reports Bloomberg News.
In a lengthy report prepared by the Department of Energy for a National Security Council meeting today, the Trump administration is warning that “Impending retirements of fuel-secure power facilities are leading to a rapid depletion of a critical part of our nation’s energy mix and impacting the resilience of our power grid.”
Under the DOE plan, for at least the next two years – while a detailed study is done – electric power companies will be forced to buy electricity from coal and nuclear plants that are threatened with extinction because natural gas, alternative energy and other newer sources of power are less expensive.
The plan also calls for the DOE to create a “Strategic Electric Generation Reserve” in case there is an emergency and other sources of power are not available to meet needs.
Once again Trump is marching backward.
While denying that climate change is a problem and paring down or eliminating programs to encourage solar, wind and other alternative forms of energy, Trump is again doubling down on coal, the most polluting, expensive, and dirtiest form of energy.
Creating a reserve will cost millions, if not billions of dollars, which Trump is justifying by citing a 1950 law that gives the DOE the authority to prevent a national security threat – which some legal experts think doesn’t apply here.
PJM, the largest grid operator and coordinator in the U.S., which serves 65 million people in 13 states and the District of Columbia, tweeted its opposition to Trump plan today.
Statement from PJM, largest grid operator:
"Any federal intervention in the market to order customers to buy electricity from specific power plants would be damaging to the markets and therefore costly to consumers. There is no need for any such drastic action" pic.twitter.com/WTYTUcxAdO
— Sam Mintz (@samjmintz) June 1, 2018
A coalition representing renewable energy, natural gas, and big energy customer trade groups shot down the idea that this is a matter of national defense.
“To invoke the concept of ‘national defense’ for what is transparently a domestic effort to boost an uneconomic segment of industry would be an unprecedented abuse of the Act,” said the Affordable Energy Coalition.
“Using this statute to favor a particular industry that is struggling in the competitive markets,’ warned the group, “would threaten that support and risk the loss of an important tool that could be needed to ensure national security.”
Even the ultra-conservative Heritage Foundation and the free-market think tank R Street came out against this new plan: “The motives couldn’t be more obvious – the same politically-tied companies that drove the last proposal are back at it again because they can’t compete in the marketplace.”
The “last proposal” is a reference to an earlier effort that Trump and Perry pushed late last year that was stopped by federal regulators this past January.
Under that bailout plan, the federal government would have spent hundreds of millions to create a reserve and force power plants to store at least 90 days of coal on site, and material to keep nuclear power plants going, supposedly to make power grids more reliable.
“Every major U.S. grid operator strongly opposed Perry’s plan, characterizing it as a threat to competitive power markets,” reported Bloomberg News in January 2018.
“Critics of the proposal,” added Bloomberg, “said it could have let some coal and nuclear plants continue to operate even if they’re not economical to run. That could slow development of gas, wind and solar projects, whose growth depends on aging power plants closing.”
Perry’s earlier plan was “never about making sure the lights and heat stayed on,” John Moore of the Sustainable FERC Project told Bloomberg. “It was about protecting the bank accounts of plant owners with a more than $14 billion bailout at the expense of everyday Americans’ budgets, health, and safety.”
Trump campaigned as a friend of coal and has claimed since he was elected president that he has delivered on his promises, but the facts do not bear him out.
“The moves to save this industry have actually exposed its weaknesses — and revealed a trend that coal companies and the Trump administration have not acknowledged publicly: The companies are scaling back, in some cases shedding workers and declining the opportunities the federal government now wants to give them,” reported the Washington Post.
“Despite Trump’s best efforts,” the Post concluded, “the American coal industry remains on life support.”
Now Trump is at it again, trying to go around Congress, the Nuclear Regulatory Commission, logic and common sense to save a failing industry for political gain.
At a time when most of the leading nations in the world, especially China and those in the European Union, are rapidly developing clean, renewable, safe alternative forms of energy, Trump remains locked in past.
He is willing to pollute the air, streams, and rivers; spend huge amounts of money; and ignore the threat of global warming to push a plan that is the equivalent of subsidizing buggy whips as the era of the automobile dawned.
This is not a failure of leadership.
It is leading America in the wrong direction – again.