By Timothy Cama
January 10, 2018 - The CEO of the nation’s largest privately held coal mining company says President Trump should fire four of the five commissioners who rejected Energy Secretary Rick Perry’s plan to help coal and nuclear power plants.
Robert Murray, head of Murray Energy Corp., said the members of the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC), an independent agency, “defaulted” on their duties by rebuffing the plan to stop coal and nuclear plants from closing. Supporters said the reliability of the electric grid was at stake.
“I believe that the Trump administration, with the exception of Neil Chatterjee, picked three bad appointees for FERC. And they should all be fired,” Murray told The Hill on Tuesday.
Murray is an outspoken advocate for coal. He accused former President Obama of being the “nation’s greatest destroyer” and said last year that Obama should be charged criminally for actions toward the coal industry.
He’s also a close ally of Trump, having met with him on multiple occasions to push for pro-coal policies.
Trump nominated all of the FERC commissioners, except Democrat Cheryl LaFleur, last year, and the Senate confirmed them.
Murray said LaFleur and fellow Democrat Richard Glick opposed Perry’s proposal because they oppose coal, but Republicans Kevin McIntyre and Rob Powelson “did not follow what should have been done in this case.”
FERC on Monday declared that Perry’s proposal could not be legally implemented because it didn’t identify problems with current electricity policies that warrant action under the Federal Power Act.
Perry wanted electric grid operators to pay coal and nuclear plants more for their power than other sources, likely increasing electricity costs, on the grounds that the power they provide is less likely to be interrupted than other sources.
Chatterjee, a Kentucky native who used to work for Sen. Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.), has been outspoken as an advocate of taking some kind of action to save coal and nuclear plants from closing.
Murray said Chatterjee “apparently was overwhelmed by the other four.”
Since FERC is an independent agency, it is difficult for Trump to remove any commissioners, except in cases like malfeasance or neglect of duty.
Murray predicted companies that run coal plants would start announcing closures in the coming days.
“I believe that you’re going to see action from some utilities relative to decommissioning nuclear and coal-fired plants. We were trying to stave that off,” he said.
Depending on what utilities do, Murray said he might push Perry to take other action on the matter, like issue emergency orders to keep certain coal plants running.
In an interview with The Hill, Chatterjee declined to comment on Murray’s call to fire his colleagues. Staff for the other commissioners did not respond to requests for comment.
Chatterjee said he was pleased with FERC’s conclusion, in which it is directing electric grid operators to provide a bevy of information on resilience issues within 90 days, at which point FERC might take more action.
But he will keep pushing for the agency to work on the issue of resilience. He told The Hill that he wanted FERC to direct grid operators to either take interim action to issue higher payments to coal and nuclear plants or “show cause” why they should not — an action known as a “show cause” order.
“Even though I was satisfied with the underlying order and the way we went, I just felt like, as a matter of principal, it was a justified approach, and I wanted to lay it out,” Chatterjee said.
“But I don’t want that to distract from the underlying order, which will continue to explore this question and most importantly, do it in a truncated timeframe so that it’s not going to linger on forever,” he said. “My colleagues and I hopefully, after 90 days, will have a robust record to dig into and we’ll evaluate how to proceed from there.”
Chatterjee agreed with his colleagues that Perry’s specific proposal would not have passed legal muster.
“I also agree with my colleagues … that the record was not sufficient to adopt the [plan] as proposed,” he said.