WASHINGTON (AP) — President Donald Trump on Friday directed Energy Secretary Rick Perry to take “immediate steps” to bolster struggling coal-fired and nuclear power plants to keep them open, calling it a matter of national and economic security.
Trump, who has frequently promised to bring back coal jobs, believes keeping America’s energy grid secure “protects our national security, public safety and economy from intentional attacks and natural disasters,” White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders said in a statement.
U.S. Rep. Adam Kinzinger, R-Channahon, said Monday he supports the initiative. Kinzinger’s district is home to four nuclear power plants, including the La Salle Generating Station outside of Marseilles.
“I see firsthand the important role this technology plays in our communities,” Kinzinger said in a press statement. “Nationwide, nuclear power supplies close to 20 percent of our electricity and it’s a vital part of our domestic energy supply.”
Kinzinger said he introduced legislation last year, which provides policy for existing plants and additional reforms for investment in new technology.
“America must take the lead and support nuclear power by ensuring we have the technology, know-how, and safety expertise to keep it going,” Kinzinger said.
“I applaud the president’s initiative to keeping our existing nuclear fleet operational and running, and I look forward to hearing more concrete details from Secretary Perry in the coming days and weeks ahead.”
Impending retirements of coal-fired and nuclear power plants are harming the nation’s electric grid and reducing its resilience, and the president wants immediate action “to stop the loss of these resources,” Sanders said.
Environmental groups decried the support for coal over cleaner energy sources, while energy industry groups warned that it could raise prices.
The directive comes as the Trump administration considers a plan to order grid operators to buy electricity from coal and nuclear plants to keep them open. The plan would direct regional transmission operators to buy power from coal and nuclear plants for two years to ensure grid reliability, “promote the national defense and maximize domestic energy supplies.”
The Energy Department action, if ordered, would represent an unprecedented intervention into U.S. energy markets.
A draft memo urges federal action to “stop the further premature retirements of fuel-secure generation” from coal and nuclear plants that have struggled to compete with natural gas and renewable energy sources such as wind and solar power. The Associated Press obtained a copy of the memo.
A diverse group of energy industry groups — including oil, natural gas, solar and wind power — condemned the proposal, saying it would raise energy prices and distort markets.
“Unprecedented government intervention in the energy markets to support high-cost generation will hurt customers by taking more money out of their pockets rather than letting people keep more of what they earn,” said Todd Snitchler of the American Petroleum Institute, the top lobbying group for the oil and gas industry.
“Orderly power plant retirements do not constitute an emergency for our electric grid,” said Amy Farrell, vice president of the American Wind Energy Association. Farrell called the draft plan “a misapplication of emergency powers” and said, “There’s certainly no credible justification to force American taxpayers to bailout uneconomic power plants.”
Michael Panfil, director of federal energy policy for the Environmental Defense Fund, called Trump’s directive “an unprecedented, illegal government handout” to the coal and nuclear industries and vowed to fight the order in court.
The independent Federal Energy Regulatory Commission rejected a similar request by Perry in January, saying in a unanimous decision there’s no evidence that past or planned retirements of coal-fired power plants, in particular, pose a threat to grid reliability.