A Plan To Save Struggling Coal Plants Is Circulating Around The White House

Jason Hopkins | Energy Investigator

The Trump administration is considering an unprecedented strategy to rescue coal plants around the country, in an effort to protect grid reliability and preserve coal jobs.

A leaked document reveals President Donald Trump is preparing to fulfill his campaign promise of breathing life back into the dying U.S. coal industry. According to a 41-page draft memo obtained by Bloomberg, the White House will invoke rarely used emergency authority to keep coal-generated electricity in the utility market. More specifically, the Energy Department will implement two federal laws — the Federal Power Act and the Defense Production Act — to mandate providers purchase electricity from at-risk facilities, guaranteeing them profits.

“Federal action is necessary to stop the further premature retirements of fuel-secure generation capacity,” reads a portion of the leaked draft memo that will be the subject of a National Security Council meeting on Friday. “Too many of these fuel-secure plants have retired prematurely and many more have recently announced retirement,” it continued. (RELATED: If Trump Does Nothing, More Nuclear Power Plants Could Shut Down) 

Both of the federal laws currently in consideration were created decades ago and meant for emergency purposes. Members of the Trump administration have long considered the growing number of early coal and nuclear plant retirements a threat to grid reliability — an opinion that unprofitable plants have long agreed with.

Circulation of the memo comes as the U.S. energy sector has evolved rapidly in recent years. The coal industry  has financially struggled as natural gas, a cheaper and less polluting alternative, has skyrocketed in production. Obama-era regulations and the steady proliferation of renewable energy has further contributed to coal’s demise.

During the 2016 election, then-candidate Trump promised to reverse President Obama’s “war on coal” and push an agenda that centers around American energy independence. The Republican president has already followed through on many of these campaign pledges by rolling back a litany of environmental regulations enacted under the previous administration.

However, as unprofitable coal and nuclear facilities continue to announce early retirements, companies have requested Trump to do more. FirstEnergy, a major electric utility, is expected to close three of its nuclear plants in Ohio and Pennsylvania. FirstEnergy executives have pleaded with the Trump administration to enact emergency powers to keep their plants in operation, claiming their closures could threaten grid reliability.

If the White House moves forward with its emergency initiative, the Energy Department will dictate the purchase of electricity from a list of at-risk plants in order to forestall “any future actions toward retirement, decommissioning or deactivation,” reads the memo. Such an action will buy Trump time for a two study that will examine the vulnerabilities of the U.S. energy delivery system.

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