Two coal companies just became even more influential over the Trump administration.
A new report reveals that Murray Energy and Alliance Resource Partners successfully lobbied to have a conservative nominee to the government’s energy regulator thrown out — simply because he opposed a plan to force taxpayers to bail out money-losing coal plants.
As Politico reported, the two coal companies — owned by two major Republican donors and Trump allies, Bob Murray and Joe Craft — teamed up with Energy Secretary Rick Perry to pressure the White House to drop the nomination of David Hill to the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC). Hill had served as the Energy Department’s general counsel under President George W. Bush.
What was Hill’s undoing? He had previously said that Perry’s costly plan to raise consumer energy bills in order to subsidize uneconomic coal plants was “absolutely not the solution.”
Last January, FERC unanimously rejected the coal bailout proposal.
Since then, Perry and Big Coal have been working overtime to stack FERC, which oversees the U.S. grid and regulates interstate electricity transmission, with cronies who will force Americans to buy costly coal and nuclear power. This vision would amount to a multi-billion dollar taxpayer bailout at the expense of cheaper renewable sources and natural gas.
The revelation also serves to further cement the relationship between the coal industry and the Trump administration. Not only has President Donald Trump tapped Craft’s wife as the next U.N. ambassador but under former Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) Administrator Scott Pruitt, Craft often met with the agency and he even gave Pruitt basketball tickets. Pruitt is reportedly now consulting for Craft’s coal company.
Meanwhile, Murray is well-known for his wish list of policy demands delivered during Trump’s first year in office; current EPA Administrator Andrew Wheeler also used to lobby on behalf of Murray Energy.
All of this is to say that we now have the staggering hypocrisy of a Republican administration seeking to force American ratepayers to pay billions of dollars a year more in energy bills to prop up dirty energy — even as Trump and GOP leaders have been characterizing Democratic efforts to speed up clean energy deployment to save a livable climate as “socialism.”
Indeed, when FERC killed Perry’s plan last year, they explained it would be unduly discriminatory against cheaper renewable energy sources. As Commissioner Cheryl LaFleur explained at the time in a concurring opinion, subsidizing the electricity dinosaurs was not FERC’s job: “I believe the Commission should continue to focus its efforts not on slowing the transition from the past but on easing the transition to the future.”
But in the past year, Big Coal has already succeeded in replacing one anti-bailout FERC commissioner, Robert Powelson, with a pro-coal crony, Bernard McNamee.
Former FERC Chairman Kevin McIntyre’s untimely death in January means Perry and the coal industry will have a second pro-bailout commissioner if they can keep thwarting candidates who are more supportive of the cheap, clean energy of the future rather than the costly, dirty energy sources of the past. Those in favor of forcing taxpayers to prop up the coal industry would need only one more vote on FERC to pass Perry’s plan.
So it still remains possible that the Trump administration will be able to achieve its dream of a centrally-planned economy where consumers are forced to pay billions to keep coal plants running and spewing their toxic and climate-destroying pollution.