As President Donald Trump looks to make his mark on a quickly evolving energy industry, it may be nuclear — not coal — voters who play an outsized role in the White House’s burgeoning agenda.
Trump promised to breathe life back into the dying coal industry during the 2016 election, telling voters across Appalachia to get ready to be “working your asses off” after his administration re-opens coal mines. Campaign signs, “Trump digs coal,” became a mainstay at Republican events in towns hit hard by Obama-era regulations and growing competition from natural gas. Trump’s electoral victory rested largely on the shoulders of blue collar voters who cared about these issues.
Over a year into Trump’s presidency, the White House has undoubtedly showed more interest in the preservation and growth of jobs related to the fossil fuel industry. EPA administrator Scott Pruitt has led a successful campaign in rolling back a host of burdensome regulations enacted under the previous administration. Additionally, Trump has been publicly receptive with requests calling for government intervention to save failing coal plants.
But while coal voters may be a crucial part of the president’s base, residents tied to nuclear energy, another sector facing peril, could play a more defining role in Trump’s decision making — and roadmap to re-election, data revealed.
Nuclear reactors can be found in 63 counties across the U.S. On Election Day 2016, Trump won 48 of these counties. He fared even better during the Republican primaries, capturing 50 counties with a nuclear facility. Generally, nuclear plants are found in red states and blue collar communities — the same areas that propelled Trump to the White House.
As struggling utilities look to Trump for help, he could be taking into consideration the consequences of nuclear plant closures as much, if not more, as the consequences of defunct coal plants.
All eyes are on the administration after FirstEnergy, a major electric utility headquartered in Ohio, filed for bankruptcy on several of its coal and nuclear plants. FirstEnergy has made a unique request in asking the federal government to initiate a “202-C” grid emergency — a rarely used provision that would keep the plants running. If the Trump administration does not acquiesce, more nuclear plants could soon close, FirstEnergy officials warn. Another notable fact about the FirstEnergy plants at risk: they are located in the swing states of Pennsylvania and Ohio.
Closures of these same nuclear plants would not only have a detrimental impact on the local economy but would also carry negative consequences for the environment, a study released on April 16 determined. Low emissions energy produced by the nuclear reactors would be replaced with fossil fuel sources, the report found.
Such factors could play a part in whether Trump decides to save the factories in Pennsylvania and Ohio or elsewhere in the U.S.
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