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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 
statement Monday.

   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 
grid.

   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.


(KA)

 
 
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