Perry plan splits Coal Caucus

Source: Dylan Brown, E&E News reporter • Posted: Monday, October 16, 2017

Not even the Congressional Coal Caucus is completely behind Energy Secretary Rick Perry’s proposal to subsidize their organizing power source.

The former Texas governor spent three hours on Capitol Hill yesterday explaining his policy goals to a House Energy and Commerce subcommittee, including a rule he asked the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission to craft that would pay coal and nuclear power plants to stockpile fuel (E&E Daily, Oct. 13).

Perry has said the request was both a “directive” and a conservation starter. The latter is all many lawmakers are prepared for after an angry backlash to the proposal from everyone in the energy industry, outside coal and nuclear.

At the top of the Coal Caucus, Chairman David McKinley, a Republican from coal-dominated West Virginia, rallied behind the rulemaking.

“I think too many members in that committee and the public don’t put it all together. We’re trying to put it all together,” he said in an interview after the hearing, arguing grid security needs to improve with the risk of events like the 2015 polar vortex.

That cold weather snap stressed the power system is several parts of the country. Analysts said more natural gas capacity would have addressed at least some of the concerns.

Coal Caucus member Rep. Michael Doyle, a Democrat from the traditional coal state of Pennsylvania, defended the changes made by utilities since.

“You are putting a heavy finger on the scale here … if you claim to be an ‘all of the above’ energy person as I am,” he told Perry about the proposal. “This is going to result in a major disruption in the electricity markets.”

And it’s not just Democrats on the caucus hesitating to endorse the Perry plan. Many Republicans have either taken a wait-and-see approach or expressed skepticism.

Rep. Pete Olson (R-Texas) defended his former governor’s free-market bona fides but also noted that during Hurricane Harvey, a power plant in his district closed its coal units, not its natural gas ones.

Still, many in the caucus do want to see something happen to help the fuel. “There is a pretty broad consensus that it’s a very positive step and something they’d like to see enacted,” McKinley spokesman Alec Thomas said.

The caucus has already captured the ear of the pro-coal Trump administration, meeting with U.S. EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt in May and this week with Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke, a former caucus member as a Montana congressman.

Yesterday, the caucus released an updated memo to one it sent the Trump transition team, outlining goals to boost the coal sector.

Many policy asks have already been checked off, including killing a drove of Obama-era regulations like the Stream Protection Rule, Clean Water Rule, Clean Power Plan and leasing moratorium.

Murray Energy Corp. CEO and outspoken regulation critic Bob Murray recently told E&E News the administration has completed almost half the things he asked it to do (Greenwire, Oct. 10).

Pending items include overturning the Cross-State Air Pollution Rule. The caucus also wants to pass legislation protecting power plants from new regulations.

Reporters Sam Mintz and Benjamin Hulac contributed.