Opponents of President Donald Trump’s proposed bailout of coal and nuclear plants are making strong cases against the plan. Trump, on the other hand, is having trouble retaining a hold on the realities of the energy industry, let alone putting together a coherent argument in favor of his plan.
As the Trump administration crafts a $30 billion bailout plan for coal and nuclear plants, the president used a political campaign event in New York last week to stage a failed attack on the wind energy industry. “You need subsidy for windmills. You need subsidy,” Trump said in his remarks. “Who wants to have energy where you need a subsidy? So, uh, the coal is doing great.”
Although it’s not entirely clear, Trump’s use of the term “subsidy” was most likely a reference to production tax credits for the wind energy industry. These tax credits have helped to drive tens of billions of dollars of investment into areas of the country with strong wind potential, bringing thousands of jobs with them. But they are now being phased out, with the support of the wind energy industry, ending after 2019.
Trump’s comments — made last Monday while in Utica, New York, stumping for Rep. Claudia Tenney (R) — attracted a wider audience after Toronto Star reporter Daniel Dale tweeted a transcript on Sunday.
After his awkward attack on wind subsidies, Trump then used the occasion to promote government support for coal. “[I]t’s a tremendous form of energy in the sense that in a military way — think of it — coal is indestructible,” Trump said.
Once again, Trump’s language was hard to decipher, but the comment likely was referring to his administration’s plan to use a Korean War-era law to subsidize coal-burning power plants on national security grounds.
Given his opposition to energy subsidies, it appears Trump doesn’t understand his own bailout plan since it involves subsidizing a dying coal industry. He also seems unaware that coal-fired power plants often shut down for a wide variety of reasons, including forced shutdowns due to cold weather or flooding of coal supplies located adjacent to a power plant.
Despite what the president says, coal-fired power plants are not indestructible. FirstEnergy Solutions hopes to get out of a coal contract with a subsidiary of coal producer Murray Energy, in part due to damage caused by a fire earlier this year at the coal-fired Bruce Mansfield power plant in Pennsylvania — one of the plants that could benefit from a bailout from the Trump administration, according to a report released last week by the Energy & Policy Institute, an energy watchdog group.
The Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC), together with other environmental and industry groups, also have highlighted how the Trump administration has used false justifications, such as grid emergencies and national security concerns, for the bailout proposal.
“A Trump administration coal/nuclear plant bailout, in any form, would be completely unjustified,” Miles Farmer, an attorney with NRDC’s Eastern Energy team and the Sustainable FERC Project, wrote in a Monday blog post. “A wide range of observers, including the Department of Energy itself, have found the grid to be both reliable and resilient.”
Farmer also warned that the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC), which oversees the nation’s wholesale energy markets and electric grid operators, is developing “highly flawed market rules that could essentially act as yet another bailout that would compete and conflict with the Trump administration’s proposed coal/nuclear bailout.”
FERC, an independent federal agency, is also reportedly helping with Trump’s proposed bailout. E&E News reported that chief of staff Anthony Pugliese said the agency is working with Trump administration officials at the Department of Energy and National Security Council to identify which power plants are “critical” to the power grid.
“It appears that certain FERC staff are working directly with the Trump White House to find failing coal and nuke plants to bail out — an unprecedented erosion of FERC’s independence to rig the system, all to benefit the execs that made bad investments,” Mary Anne Hitt, director of the Sierra Club’s Beyond Coal campaign, said in response to the news report.