Trump Orders 'Immediate Steps' To Save Coal And Nuclear Power Plants

Donald Trump wears a coal miners hat while addressing his supporters during a rally at the Charleston Civic Center

Ricky Carioti The Washington Post via Getty Images file

The idea comes after federal energy regulators rejected a proposal late past year from Energy Secretary Rick Perry to subsidize nuclear and coal plants for providing "resilience" to the grid.

American power generators are expected to retire - or announce the retirements of - 16,200 megawatts of coal-fired and 550 megawatts of nuclear plant capacity this year, according to Bloomberg New Energy Finance.

The DPA, enacted in 1950 during the Korean War to ensure the availability of critical materials and resources for the U.S. national defense, allows the secretary of energy, through a presidential delegation, to require contracts or allocations of materials and services to maximize domestic energy supplies.

MEMO POINTS TO DOE'S NATIONAL SECURITY RESPONSIBILITIESIn defense of prompt, alternative action by the department, the draft memo speaks of DOE's position on the NSC and its responsibility, under statute and executive order, to respond to energy supply disruptions and any threats to grid reliability and resilience.

Sanders added that "impending retirements of fuel-secure power facilities" pose a risk to national security, which prompted Friday's actions.

Both Sen. Joe Manchin, D-W.Va., and Rep. David B. McKinley, R-W.Va., have been encouraging Trump to use his power under the Defense Production Act and the Federal Power Act to protect power plants already investing in emissions control.

Trump's directive comes as administration officials search for ways to extend the life of coal and nuclear power plants they argue provide reliable, always-on power capable of snapping back after intense storms and emergencies.

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A draft plan circulating in Washington would require power grid operators to buy electricity from struggling coal plants over the next two years to prevent them from shutting down.

"No law gives the Administration the power to set energy prices". Nationwide, BNEF said, two dozen nuclear plants - representing almost 33 gigawatts - are either scheduled to close or probably won't make money through 2021.

Solar power employs five times the workers as does coal, and does not pollute the environment.

A "Strategic Electric Generation Reserve" would also be created under the order "to promote the national defense and maximize domestic energy supplies", the draft memo said.

If the Trump administration were to invoke these two statutes, the move would nearly certainly be challenged in federal court by natural gas and renewable energy companies, which could stand to lose market share. Fortunately, the last bailout attempt was rejected unanimously by federal regulators, comprised mostly of Trump appointees. The Federal Power Act, which ensures a reliable power supply after sudden emergencies, is not meant to insulate uneconomic power plants from market forces.

One other coalition of power business teams representing the oil, pure fuel, photo voltaic, and wind industries issued joint statements saying the administration's plan is "misguided", "unwarranted", and "an train in crony capitalism".

The Sierra Club explains that FirstEnergy Solutions, which recently filed for bankruptcy, had asked the DOE for its emergency powers to bail out plants "whose high costs have rendered them obsolete in an energy market in which modern clean energy resources like solar, wind and energy efficiency are more affordable", the group says.

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