Tuesday, October 16, 2018

White House shelves plan to prop up ailing coal and nuclear plants in the name of national security — for now

The Trump administration has shelved a major effort to help the coal industry on the advice of the president's advisors on the National Security Council and National Economic Council, according to four sources with knowledge of the discussions.

Energy Secretary Rick Perry proposed and promoted the plan, which would force power companies to keep unprofitable or barely profitable coal plants running for the sake of national security. But "Perry’s proposals — which would also keep aging nuclear power plants operating — have riled up the oil and gas industry, which has prospered as inexpensive natural gas has increasingly eaten away at coal’s share of U.S. power markets," Eric Wolff and Darius Dixon report for Politico. "Other critics include consumer groups worried about rising power bills for customers, environmental organizations concerned about the threat to wind and solar power, and conservative policy organizations that oppose what they see as heavy-handed federal intervention in the economy."

President Trump has argued that coal and nuclear power store their fuel on-site, making them less vulnerable to attack than oil and gas, which must use pipelines that are more easily attacked. But an Energy Department-ordered study that disagreed with that assessment was kept under wraps for the past six months after its submission.

Energy Department advisors have had a hard time deciding on a rubric for which plants get funding and who would pay. And without a solid legal justification, advisors are leery of enacting such a plan. But the plan may not be dead. "It is unclear whether Trump himself has decided against following Perry’s proposal. Even if he has, the sources warned that Trump frequently changes his mind, and the idea could re-emerge in advance of the president’s reelection campaign," Wolff and Dixon report.

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