Critics denounce ‘blatantly corrupt’ grid order

Source: Geof Koss, E&E News reporter • Posted: Tuesday, June 5, 2018

Congressional Democrats and environmentalists are adding to a growing and diverse chorus of opposition to a possible federal intervention to prop up coal and nuclear power plants.

Democrats on both sides of the Capitol on Friday denounced the proposal under consideration at the White House, which would require grid operators and utilities to purchase electricity from a federal list of struggling coal and nuclear plants in the name of national security (Greenwire, June 1).

“Today Donald Trump is ginning up a fake grid emergency to bail out donors in the coal industry, while ignoring a real grid emergency that has killed thousands of Americans in Puerto Rico,” said Rep. Don Beyer (D-Va.) in a statement that called the order “blatantly corrupt.”

“Trump’s announcement today says very clearly that he cares more about helping wealthy donors and coal executives than he does the suffering people of Puerto Rico, thousands of whom still lack power eight months after Hurricane Maria.”

Sen. Ron Wyden (D-Ore.), a senior member of the Energy and Natural Resources Committee, linked the proposal to the recent uptick in gasoline prices, echoing a theme that Democrats have spotlighted in recent weeks.

“It’s bad enough gas prices have already risen under the Trump administration, but now the latest reports show Secretary Perry is doubling down on his absurd plan to blow up energy markets and raise utility rates to pad the wallets of his coal executive friends,” said Wyden in a Friday statement. “This would be an egregious abuse of power.”

Environmentalists also belittled the proposal, which was to be a topic of discussion at a Friday meeting of the National Security Council.

Earthjustice accused the Trump administration of resorting to a “Soviet-style takeover of private energy markets to keep dirty, uneconomic coal plants running.”

“White House whims” do not justify “emergency coal, nuke plant bailouts,” added the Union of Concerned Scientists.

“This attempt to turn an era of cheap, abundant electricity into an emergency should be seen for what it is — a scare tactic, pure and simple,” said UCS Senior Energy Analyst Mike Jacobs.

Criticism from the left adds to the grumbling over the plan, which was also denounced Friday by a diverse coalition of energy interests representing oil and gas, wind, solar and energy-storage firms.

While it sends a signal of the level of discomfort with federal intervention in the free market, similar broad opposition failed to deter Trump from imposing steel tariffs, noted ClearView Energy Partners on Friday.

Congressional leaders, as well as the top members on key committees, were silent on Trump’s order.

However, West Virginia politicians celebrated the plan as bolstering national security.

“With coal and nuclear plants already closing at alarming rates, the reliability of America’s electric grid is at risk,” said Rep. David McKinley (R-W.Va.), a member of the Energy and Commerce Committee, in a statement.

“From the Polar Vortex to Hurricane Harvey to the growing threat of cyberattacks from foreign enemies, we’ve seen how weather and other external factors can stress our energy supply and threaten our security.”

West Virginia Republican Attorney General Patrick Morrisey, who is vying to replace Democrat Joe Manchin in the Senate, praised the administration’s plan as a “huge deal.”

“Today’s news accurately recognizes that safeguarding the energy grid is a national security issue — not just a domestic energy issue — and that West Virginia coal plays a critical role,” Morrisey said in a statement.

Manchin is taking credit for pushing the plan. “I am glad President Trump and his Administration are considering my idea to use the Defense Production Act to save coal-fired power plants with emissions controls and protect our national security,” Manchin said in a statement. “The security of our homeland is inextricably tied to the security of our energy supply.”

Energy Department electricity official Bruce Walker will be on Capitol Hill this week for a House Science, Space and Technology Committee hearing. Lawmakers will likely ask about efforts to save coal and nuclear plants (see related story).