June 8, 2018
President Trump’s Nuclear, Coal Bailout Plan Draws Comparisons to Socialism From Critics
By Tom Henry
The Trump Administration’s plan to bail out the beleaguered nuclear and coal industries continues to draw sharp reaction from critics, with activists now claiming it will cost Americans as much as $34 billion more a year for electricity.
Meanwhile, Howard Learner, executive director of the Chicago-based Environmental Law & Policy Center, claims the directive that was announced June 1 is largely a result of lobbying on behalf of FirstEnergy Corp. by President Trump’s former campaign manager, Corey Lewandowski, and Robert E. Murray, Murray Energy Corp.’s chairman, president, and chief executive officer.
Murray Energy is a major mining company that supplies coal to many affected power plants.
“Clearly, FirstEnergy and Bob Murray of Murray Energy have been aggressively lobbying the Trump Administration for a bailout,” according to Mr. Learner, who said the directive would interfere with the marketplace to ensure cash flow for executives from noncompetitive corporations.
“President Trump is asking the public to subsidize the losers,” Mr. Learner said.
Former U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission board member Peter Bradford likewise called it “Trump socialism” during an interview with The Blade.
“This is about favors and political paybacks,” said Mr. Bradford, a board member of the Union of Concerned Scientists who has taught at Vermont Law School, been a state utility regulator for the states of Maine and New York, and delivered expert testimony to Congress in the past.
He was one of the NRC’s five commissioners when Three Mile Island Unit 2 near Harrisburg, Pa., experienced its historic half-core meltdown in 1979, a turning point for America’s nuclear industry.
“It’s not Bernie Sanders socialism. It’s Trump socialism, because the benefits aren’t going to the public at large,” Mr. Bradford said.
The Trump Administration, though, asserts the American public will benefit greatly from the directive.
It said the President gave U.S. Energy Secretary Rick Perry orders to step in and develop a rule that will require regional grid operators — including PJM Interconnection, LLC of Pennsylvania, which serves Ohio — to keep buying electricity from failing nuclear and coal-fired power plants at above-market rates as a matter of national security.
The administration’s position is that America cannot become overly reliant on natural gas, renewable energy, and other sources of electricity that are now being sold at much cheaper prices. Natural gas in particular has made great inroads in the market because of how prices have fallen dramatically over the past decade once the modern era of fracking shale began.
Mr. Perry’s rule is to be based on two federal laws that critics contend were intended only for dire emergencies, such as wartime and natural disasters. While the intent to issue the document has been announced, the document itself is still under development.
Mr. Learner and others predict an odd collection of bedfellows — from the American Petroleum Institute to a bevy of anti-nuclear and environmental groups — will challenge whatever is ultimately issued.