The Trump administration has allegedly backed out of a promise to a group of its biggest supporters.
Coal executives say the president pledged to enact an emergency order to protect coal-fired power plants, but his Department of Energy has decided not to use its authority, which allows the agency to temporary offer relief to electricity plants in the event of an emergency. This type of order is intended to protect the nation’s electricity supply and temporarily allows power plants to skirt environmental regulations.
“We look at the facts of each issue and consider the authorities we have to address them, but with respect to this particular case at this particular time, the White House and the Department of Energy are in agreement that the evidence does not warrant the use of this emergency authority,” Energy Department spokeswoman Shaylyn Hynes told the AP, which first reported the decision.
Coal executives wanted the Trump administration to stop coal-fired power plants from closing for the next two years. “As stated, disastrous consequences for President Trump, our electric power grid reliability, and tens of thousands of coal miners will result if this is not immediately done,” Murray Energy CEO Robert Murray wrote in a letter obtained by the AP.
Murray said Trump privately committed to issuing the order, telling Energy Secretary Rick Perry, “I want this done.”
It would have been a nearly unprecedented use of DOE’s authority to support the coal industry. According to the AP, this type of order was previously used during the 2000 California energy crisis and after Hurricane Katrina. It was never used by the Obama administration, but it has been used twice already by the Trump administration. In April, the department issued it’s “first-ever” order to keep open a power plant that is not compliant with the Mercury and Air Toxics Standard, an EPA rule. The Oklahoma plant had previously been slated for closure. Then, in June, Energy Secretary Rick Perry signed another order, allowing two Virginia power plants to remain online through the summer. The plants’ owner, Dominion Energy, had been forced to take the plants offline because they were also in violation of the MATS rule.
Murray says that the order would prevent thousands of coal job losses and protect industry pensions. He has been close to President Donald Trump since the campaign and attended the February signing of an executive order to revoke the Clean Power Plan, an EPA rule to reduce carbon emissions from the electricity sector.
Now, he finds himself among the legions of people who have found out that Trump’s word cannot be taken at face value.
Murray has long been an outspoken opponent of EPA regulations as well as a staunch supporter of Republican candidates. He has pushed for the EPA’s carbon dioxide endangerment finding — which allows the agency to regulate the greenhouse gas — to be rescinded, and he has sued the agency multiple times. Most recently, Murray and others lost a court bid to force the EPA to redo economic analysis for a suite of Clean Air Act regulations.
Still, Murray acknowledges that Trump is likely unable to bring back the coal industry, even with extreme measures to roll back environmental protections. Coal jobs have fallen dramatically in recent years, with a number of companies declaring bankruptcy, but analysts point to low natural gas prices, affordable renewable energy technologies, and increased mechanization of the coal industry as the major drivers in job losses.
UPDATE: This post has been updated with a link to the Murray letters.