August 23, 2017 Read More →

Trump Rebuffs Industry Request to Invoke Emergency Powers to Keep U.S. Coal Plants Running

Associated Press:

The Trump administration has rejected a coal industry push to win a rarely used emergency order protecting coal-fired power plants, a decision contrary to what one coal executive said the president personally promised him.

The Energy Department says it considered issuing the order sought by companies seeking relief for plants it says are overburdened by environmental rules and market stresses. But the department ultimately ruled it was unnecessary, and the White House agreed, a spokeswoman said.

The decision highlights a pattern emerging as the administration crafts policy: The president’s bold declarations – both public and private – are not always carried through to implementation.

President Donald Trump committed to the measure in private conversations with executives from Murray Energy Corp. and FirstEnergy Solutions Corp. after public events in July and early August, according to letters to the White House from Murray Energy and its chief executive, Robert Murray. In the letters, obtained by The Associated Press, Murray said failing to act would cause thousands of coal miners to be laid off and put the pensions of thousands more in jeopardy. One of Murray’s letters said Trump agreed and told Energy Secretary Rick Perry, “I want this done” in Murray’s presence.

Energy Department spokeswoman Shaylyn Hynes said the agency was sympathetic to the coal industry’s plight, but likewise did not support the proposal.

The aid Murray sought from Trump involves invoking a little-known section of the U.S. Federal Power Act that allows the Energy Department to temporarily intervene when the nation’s electricity supply is threatened by an emergency, such as war or natural disaster. Among other measures, it temporarily exempts power plants from obeying environmental laws. In the past, the authority has been used sparingly, such as during the California energy crisis in 2000 and following Hurricane Katrina in 2005.

Murray’s company is seeking a two-year moratorium on closures of coal-fired power plants, which would be an unprecedented federal intervention in the nation’s energy markets. The company said invoking the provision under the Power Act was “the only viable mechanism” to protect the reliability of the nation’s power supply.

Murray told the White House that his key customer, Ohio-based electricity company FirstEnergy Solutions, was at immediate risk of bankruptcy.

Coal has become an increasingly unattractive fuel for U.S. electricity companies, which have been retiring old boilers at a record pace. At least two dozen big coal-fired plants are scheduled to shut down in coming months as utilities transition to new steam turbines fueled by cleaner-burning natural gas made more abundant in recent years by new drilling technologies.

More: A coal country dispute over and alleged Trump promise unmet

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