By Jason Hopkins
June 6, 2018 - A broad coalition of fossil fuel and environmental groups will likely target the White House’s plan to rescue failing coal and nuclear facilities with lawsuits.
President Donald Trump rocked the utility world on Friday when he directed Secretary of Energy Rick Perry to wield emergency authority to prevent the closure of uneconomical coal and nuclear plants across the country. The federal government will implement Section 202 of the Federal Power Act and the Defense Production Act — laws enacted decades ago and meant for emergency purposes — to purchase electricity from a list of at-risk plants for two years, according to a draft memo leaked a day prior. The plan comes as coal and nuclear plants have shuttered around the U.S. as they face competition from cheaper natural gas and an emerging renewables industry.
If implemented, the directive introduced on Friday would be an unprecedented intervention into the U.S. power sector. The Trump administration argues that emergency procedures are necessary because early retirements of plants pose reliability risks to the grid. Nuclear and coal plants, they pointed out, can store fuel onsite, unlike renewables or natural gas.
Such a move has been welcomed with open arms by coal and nuclear officials. FirstEnergy, for example, requested earlier in 2018 that Trump use emergency powers to save their nuclear plants.
“Baseload coal and nuclear plants help maintain electric system resiliency and national security while also playing an irreplaceable role in the regional economy,” FirstEnergy President Charles Jones said in a Friday statement to Bloomberg. “Preserving these vital facilities is the right thing to do for the industry, the electric grid and our customers.”
However, the plan has been met with vehement criticism from coal and nuclear’s biggest competitors. An incongruous group of natural gas, petroleum and renewable energy interests are likely to go to the courts to block the plan. Environmentalists have already vowed to file lawsuits.
“This is an outrageous ploy to force American taxpayers to bail out coal and nuclear executives who have made bad decisions by investing in dirty and dangerous energy resources,” Mary Anne Hitt, the director of Sierra Club’s Beyond Coal Campaign, stated to Bloomberg. Her organization aims to completely remove coal from the country’s energy portfolio. “It will be soundly defeated both in the courts and in the court of public opinion.”
Environmentalists have common cause with some of their historic rivals in the fossil fuel industry in opposing the plan. Natural gas plants, which have proliferated in the past decade, stand to lose if coal and nuclear facilities receive government assistance. Subsiding so many plants would likely sink prices in the rest of the energy market, possibly driving other generators out of business.
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