Trump Rebuffs Coal Industry 08/22 06:07
WASHINGTON (AP) -- The Trump administration has rejected a coal industry
push to win a rarely used emergency order protecting coal-fired power plants, a
decision one executive said breaks a personal promise from President Donald
Trump to take the extraordinary step to benefit the industry.
The Energy Department says it considered issuing the order sought by
companies seeking relief for plants it says are overburdened by environmental
regulations and market stresses. But the department ultimately ruled it was
unnecessary, and the White House agreed, a spokeswoman said.
The decision is a rare example of friction between the beleaguered coal
industry and the president who has vowed to save it. It also highlights a
pattern emerging as the Trump administration crafts policy: The president's
bold declarations --- both public and private --- are not always carried
through to implementation.
Trump committed to the measure in private conversations with executives from
Murray Energy Corp. and FirstEnergy Solutions Corp. after public events in July
and early August, according to letters to the White House from Murray Energy
and its chief executive, Robert Murray. In the letters, obtained by The
Associated Press, Murray said failing to act would cause thousands of coal
miners to be laid off and put the pensions of thousands more in jeopardy. One
of Murray's letters said Trump agreed and told Energy Secretary Rick Perry, "I
want this done" in Murray's presence.
The White House declined to comment on Murray's assertion. A spokesman for
Murray Energy, Gary Broadbent, also declined to comment on the letters.
Energy Department spokeswoman Shaylyn Hynes said the agency was sympathetic
to the coal industry's plight.
"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," Hynes said in a
The aid Murray sought from Trump involves invoking a little-known section of
the U.S. Federal Power Act that allows the Energy Department to temporarily
intervene when the nation's electricity supply is threatened by an emergency,
such as war or natural disaster. Among other measures, it temporarily exempts
power plants from obeying environmental laws. In the past, the authority has
been used sparingly, such as during the California energy crisis in 2000 and
following Hurricane Katrina in 2005. The Obama administration never used it.
The Trump administration has used it twice in seven months in narrow instances.
Murray's company is seeking a two-year moratorium on closures of coal-fired
power plants, which would be an unprecedented federal intervention in the
nation's energy markets. The company said invoking the provision under the
Power Act was "the only viable mechanism" to protect the reliability of the
nation's power supply.
Murray told the White House that his key customer, Ohio-based electricity
company FirstEnergy Solutions, was at immediate risk of bankruptcy. Without
FirstEnergy's plants burning his coal, Murray said his own company would be
forced into "immediate bankruptcy," triggering the layoffs of more than 6,500
miners. FirstEnergy acknowledged to the AP that bankruptcy of its
power-generation business was a possibility.
Murray urged Trump to use the provision in the Federal Power Act to halt
further coal plant closures by declaring an emergency in the electric power
After a conversation with Trump at a July 25 political rally in Youngstown,
Ohio, Murray wrote, the president told Perry three times, "I want this done."
Trump also directed the emergency order be given during an Aug. 3 conversation
in Huntington, West Virginia, he said.
"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," he wrote.
Murray's claims raise the possibility that Trump was warned against the move
by his advisers --- some of whom are known to be more cautious --- or that he
simply made assurances to Murray to avoid immediate confrontation. The people
who worked on the decision most directly were Perry, Michael Catanzaro, who
works under National Economic Council Director Gary Cohn as the top White House
energy adviser, and Perry's chief of staff, Brian McCormack, U.S. officials
told the AP. They spoke only on condition of anonymity because they were not
authorized to discuss internal policy considerations by name.
Murray and his company have been impassioned supporters of Trump, donating
hundreds of thousands of dollars to his campaign and inauguration, hosting
fundraisers and embracing him as the rescuer of the Appalachian coal industry.
The friendliness has been mutual: When Trump repealed an Obama administration
regulation barring coal companies from dumping mine waste in streams, Murray
and his sons were invited for the signing.
The Energy Department has already informed Murray it will not invoke the
law, an official with knowledge of the decision told the AP.
Coal has become an increasingly unattractive fuel for U.S. electricity
companies, which have been retiring old boilers at a record pace. At least two
dozen big coal-fired plants are scheduled to shut down in coming months as
utilities transition to new steam turbines fueled by cleaner-burning natural
gas made more abundant in recent years by new drilling technologies.
Trump, who rejects the consensus of scientists that burning fossil fuels is
causing global warming, has made reversing the coal industry's decline a
cornerstone of his administration's energy and environmental policies. Since
taking office, he announced that the U.S. will withdraw from the Paris climate
accord, and he has moved to block or delay Obama-era regulations seeking to
limit carbon emissions.
Other coal executives have urged similar government intervention to save
their businesses. In a speech last week, the CEO of Peabody Energy Corp., the
nation's largest coal producer, also said a two-year moratorium on coal-plant
closures was needed.
Perry has already twice invoked the Federal Power Act in narrow ways at the
request of utilities seeking to keep old coal-burning plants online past their
planned retirement dates. In both cases, the utilities were allowed to continue
operations at plants amid concerns that shutting them down could lead to
regional shortages in electricity.