The Trump administration is as openly hostile to clean energy as it is close to the coal industry. The President and his departmental heads have often boasted that they’re bringing coal back, and that their decisions – like exiting from the Paris climate change agreement – will only help to achieve this goal.
Unfortunately, the writing is on the wall for the coal industry: it’s losing out to clean energy at a breakneck speed, both in America and around the world.
Murray Energy, the largest coal mining company in America, has become acutely aware of this. According to correspondence seen by IFLScience, courtesy of the Associated Press, it requested some drastic action from the White House and Department of Energy (DoE).
Specifically, leaked letters between Bob Murray (the head of Murray Energy) and various officials in the Trump administration requested that they follow through on an alleged promise to invoke a rarely used Federal Power Act (FPA) Emergency Authority order, one that would have forcefully reordered America’s electrical systems in order to benefit coal power plants.
The cost of not doing this was calculated by Murray Energy to be just over $11 billion dollars, which meant that if Trump signed off on the order, he would have been donating them an $11 billion taxpayer giveaway – a truly enormous figure. As a point of comparison, the largest federal fund for science research in America, the National Science Foundation, gets $7.5 billion per year.
The FPA order in question (202c) is meant to be used, according to the DoE, “during the continuance of a war in which the United States is engaged or when an emergency exists by reason of a sudden increase in the demand for electric energy.” It’s been used eight times in the last 18 years, normally after a serious natural disaster or a major blackout.
Any signing off on this order by the President in order to save Murray Energy such funds would amount to a bewildering misuse of the act, but it would have backed up Trump’s bellicose claims that he’s a friend to coal companies up and down the country.
That’s why it’s so notable that, when push came to shove, he refused to enact the order. At the very least, that makes Donald “Clean Coal” Trump a hypocrite.
Murray Energy, for its part, is deeply distressed by the rejection. The letters claim that the President personally guaranteed that he’d do anything that the company wanted, but his and DoE chief Rick Perry’s inaction has provoked strong words, with suggestions that “the country will soon be facing a risk to national security”.
“As you are aware,” one letter to Perry notes, “the thermal coal industry Is facing the rapid loss of domestic coal markets as announced coal fired generating plant closures continue to occur unabated.”
“Very frankly, no other viable alternative… will stop the certain collapse of much of the thermal coal industry, other than immediately invoking Section 202c.”
Trump’s apparent refusal to budge does indeed look like he has turned his back on the very people that helped propel him to the Presidency – something that the letters strive to make very clear. It’s not yet known why he refused to invoke the FPA order, but what is clear as day is that the coal industry is very aware that its time is up.
Now, they’re appealing to federal authority to intervene; an ironic choice, considering that the nationwide clean energy initiatives of the Obama-era Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) were often accused by conservatives as tantamount to “federal overreach”.
“President Trump continues to fight for miners every day,” administration spokeswoman Kelly Love told reporters at the time. She added, however, that this proposal simply wasn’t the right way to support that fight.