Federal regulator rejects Trump coal rescue plan

Federal regulators have rejected a controversial Trump administration proposal that would have propped up slumping co...

Posted: Jan 9, 2018 10:34 AM
Updated: Jan 9, 2018 10:34 AM

Federal regulators have rejected a controversial Trump administration proposal that would have propped up slumping coal companies.

The Federal Energy Regulatory Commission dismissed Energy Secretary Rick Perry's call to subsidize power plants like coal and nuclear that maintain a 90-day supply of fuel on site. Perry cited a need to improve the resilience of the nation's power grid, especially from severe weather.

The proposal, which was supported by coal mining companies like Murray Energy, was widely seen as an attempt to help the coal and nuclear industry. Coal, in particular, has been crushed in recent years by the rise of cleaner energy like natural gas and solar and by tougher environmental regulation.

In a blow to Trump's campaign promise to help coal country, FERC on Monday terminated a rulemaking process that Perry had launched.

The independent agency, which is run by bipartisan commissioners appointed by the president and confirmed by the Senate, faced a Wednesday deadline to rule on the matter.

FERC did decide to take steps to evaluate the resilience of the power system. It directed regional transmission organizations and independent system operators, which move electricity through the grid, to submit information. FERC said it expects to "promptly decide whether additional Commission action is warranted to address grid resilience."

"This is a good day for everyone who cares about good governance and healthy markets," said Justin Gundlach, a staff attorney at Columbia University's Sabin Center for Climate Change Law.

Gundlach slammed the Energy Department proposal as a "gambit that sought to funnel money to uneconomic coal-fired power plants in a way that would have ignored the law."

Former New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg, a U.N. special envoy on climate change, called the FERC decision a win for "consumers, the free market and clean air." He said Perry's proposal was an attempt to "prop up the coal industry by forcing American consumers to pay more for energy."

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Former FERC commissioners warned in a letter last year that the Energy Department proposal would raise costs for customers and "disrupt decades of substantial investment made in the modern electric power system."

The FERC decision is bad news for coal companies hurting from a wave of retirements of coal-fired power plants that have switched to cheaper fuels like natural gas. Between 2010 and 2015, coal plants accounted for more than 52% of retired power plant capacity, according to government statistics.

Murray Energy argued the new rule would ensure that coal plants would be there to supply electricity when it's most needed, especially during extreme weather like the recent cold weather in parts of the United States.

"If it were not for the electricity generated by our Nation's coal-fired power plants, and nuclear plants, we would be experiencing massive brownouts and blackouts in this Country," Murray wrote in a statement to CNNMoney. (Murray CEO Robert Murray filed a defamation lawsuit last year against John Oliver, HBO and CNN owner Time Warner, alleging "character assassination.")

The Energy Department said the rule was needed to "address the crisis at hand" regarding the resilience of the electric grid. The department cited the 2014 extreme cold snap known as the Polar Vortex as well as natural disasters such as Hurricanes Sandy, Harvey and Irma.

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However, some analysts pointed out that power outages are usually caused by downed power lines, not a short supply of fuel. Less than 0.1% of all electricity disturbances over the last five years were caused by fuel supply emergencies, according to a report by the Rhodium Group, a research firm.

Apple wrote a letter to FERC on Monday urging the agency to reject the Energy Department proposal and stating that the "grid is not facing a crisis."

Apple warned the proposed rule would "inhibit, rather than promote, a well-designed and competitive electricity market that can drive down costs for consumers and unleash competition."

Climate activists cheered the FERC decision.

"FERC's announcement is a return to reality after months of billionaire coal and nuclear executives pressuring DOE and FERC to illegally setup bailouts for their uneconomic plants," Mary Anne Hitt, director of the Sierra Club's Beyond Coal campaign, wrote in a statement.

Mississippi Coronavirus Cases

Data is updated nightly.

Confirmed Cases: 33591

Reported Deaths: 1204
CountyConfirmedDeaths
Hinds264246
DeSoto176718
Madison135536
Jones115949
Neshoba101673
Harrison100312
Rankin99915
Lauderdale93781
Forrest92743
Scott78515
Jackson70417
Copiah62715
Washington62610
Leake59820
Lee57521
Holmes57041
Oktibbeha55728
Wayne55116
Warren54020
Yazoo5336
Grenada5227
Lowndes51513
Leflore50756
Lamar5007
Lincoln49234
Pike46617
Sunflower4368
Monroe43135
Lafayette4194
Covington3965
Panola3926
Bolivar37018
Attala36523
Simpson3603
Newton35210
Adams33218
Tate31912
Pontotoc3166
Marion30812
Chickasaw29119
Claiborne28910
Winston28210
Noxubee2738
Pearl River26932
Jasper2666
Marshall2643
Clay25111
Smith23412
Union23311
Coahoma2136
Clarke21125
Walthall2087
Lawrence1892
Yalobusha1838
Kemper17914
Carroll17111
Humphreys1569
Tallahatchie1564
Montgomery1432
Calhoun1425
Tippah14211
Itawamba1408
Hancock13413
Webster12811
Tunica1153
Jefferson1143
Jefferson Davis1144
Prentiss1113
Greene1089
Amite1043
George943
Wilkinson949
Tishomingo911
Quitman891
Alcorn762
Perry764
Choctaw754
Stone722
Franklin472
Benton420
Sharkey400
Issaquena101
Unassigned00

Alabama Coronavirus Cases

Confirmed Cases: 48588

Reported Deaths: 1042
CountyConfirmedDeaths
Jefferson5687161
Mobile4315136
Montgomery4275109
Tuscaloosa238248
Marshall181511
Madison16208
Lee146337
Shelby141424
Morgan11575
Baldwin10399
Walker101825
Elmore97519
Dallas9189
Franklin90616
Etowah83413
DeKalb7905
Chambers64727
Autauga64312
Butler63728
Tallapoosa60669
Russell5890
Unassigned53826
Houston5366
Limestone5251
Lauderdale5146
Cullman4905
Lowndes47922
Pike4525
Colbert4426
St. Clair4402
Escambia4358
Calhoun4035
Coffee3923
Covington38110
Bullock36910
Barbour3622
Jackson3432
Talladega3337
Dale3261
Marengo32011
Hale31722
Wilcox2958
Clarke2876
Sumter28512
Winston2773
Chilton2762
Blount2581
Monroe2442
Pickens2446
Marion24114
Randolph2289
Conecuh2187
Macon2029
Choctaw19912
Bibb1981
Greene1888
Perry1791
Henry1403
Crenshaw1253
Washington1217
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