July 6, 2018 - Few coal executives are closer to the White House than Joseph Craft III. The CEO of Alliance Resource Partners LP texts with EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt. His wife serves as the ambassador to Canada. And he is a regular at administration events where the coal industry’s fortunes are at stake.
But the Trump administration was powerless to help Craft earlier this year, when Dayton Power and Light Co. pulled the plug on two colossal power plants along the Ohio River. Craft’s mines fed coal to those plants.
The retirements of the J.M. Stuart and Killen stations left a large hole in Craft’s balance sheet. Last year, his company, based in Tulsa, Okla., shipped 2.5 million tons of coal to those plants, according to federal figures. That accounted for 6 percent of Craft’s coal production in 2017.
“There are other power plants out there, but trying to replace this with others — I don’t want to say it’s impossible, but it’s difficult,” said Andy Blumenfeld, who tracks the coal industry at Doyle Trading Consultants, a research firm.
The closures of J.M. Stuart and Killen underline the inexorable issue facing the Trump administration: how to prevent the retirement of coal plants at a time when America is awash with natural gas. It also offers an explanation for the frenzied lobbying in Washington, D.C., where the coal industry has continued to press for a federal lifeline as plant after coal plant shuts down.
… Critics of DOE’s efforts to sustain the coal industry say it’s based in political favor-giving, not economics. They point to FERC’s unanimous rejection of the initial DOE proposal; the commission said the grid does not face an immediate emergency.
“Trump made a promise with no evidence to bring back the coal industry, and it’s not happening, and it’s not going to happen,” said David Schlissel, director of resource planning at the Institute for Energy Economics and Financial Analysis, a think tank that favors a transition to clean energy. “We don’t know what they’re going to do or how long it’s going to be for. But what we do know is it’s really not needed. It will be a bailout.”
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