Trump throws ailing USA coal, nuke plants a lifeline, triggers backlash

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The Energy Department would exercise emergency authority under a pair of federal laws to direct the operators to purchase electricity or electric generation capacity from at-risk facilities, according to a memo obtained by Bloomberg News.

"While we believe DOE has broad privileges to identify threats to national security, we are skeptical that (the order) entitles DOE to direct power market operators (.) to pay generators more based upon that threat", said Katie Bays, energy analyst at Height Capital Markets in Washington.

Murray also puzzled that he couldn't figure out why this had not yet been done, writing: "In Youngstown, Ohio, nine days ago, after my personally speaking with President Trump, he turned to Energy Secretary Rick Perry and said three (3) times, 'I want this done'".

It says even though "intermittent resources", such as wind and solar power, do "provide value at various times during the day", it is "during times of peak demand when there is the greatest strain on the electricity grid" that "many major electricity markets are and will continue to be heavily dependent on fossil and nuclear electric generation resources".

"This is an outrageous ploy to force American taxpayers to bail out coal and nuclear executives who have made bad decisions by investing in dirty and unsafe energy resources, and it will be soundly defeated both in the courts and in the court of public opinion".

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After receiving hundreds of pages of comments ghostwritten by FirstEnergy, FERC ultimately shot down that rule in January, and Murray later blamed this decision for FirstEnergy's bankruptcy filing.

Depending on the approach taken by the Trump administration, propping up coal and nuclear plants could cost the taxpayers anywhere from $311 million to $11.8 billion per year.

The president heralded the coal industry during his campaign and his presidency, and he's frequently talked about trying to bring coal jobs back. "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". Since 2011, he has covered energy and environment for the Allegheny Front, a public radio environmental news show in Western Pennsylvania. Under the Federal Power Act, Section 202 (c) allows the DOE secretary to issue an "emergency run order" for use in only the most extreme circumstances, such as an act of war or severe grid impairment.

The Trump administration's claims of energy security for keeping coal and nuclear plants online is not supported by the facts, as multiple power networks, including PJM, one of the biggest United States independent systems, point to a recent extremely cold "bomb cyclone" weather event in the U.S. northeast that showed the regional grid operating efficiently despite coal power plant closures, cited by Ars Technica.

Some legal experts questioned whether the Energy Department could invoke the Federal Power Act, saying the law traditionally has been used to respond to hurricanes, blackouts and other disasters.

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"However, since grid operators, industry experts and utilities have repeatedly and forcefully stated that there is no energy shortage and there is no evidence of an emergency, Trump's scheme today is not just unnecessary - it is likely illegal", the Sierra Club claims.

Environmental groups criticized the draft plan and called it illegal.

"This would be the most outrageous scheme yet", said John Moore of the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC), according to the Washington Examiner.

There is no environmental argument for keeping open coal plants, which are the most carbon-intensive form of power.

Main image: Energy Secretary Rick Perry, left, at the 2018 Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC).

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