Photo: Jeffrey Greenberg/UIG via Getty Images

The emerging White House plan to throw an economic lifeline to struggling coal-fired and nuclear power plants would likely thwart progress on cutting greenhouse gas emissions, even though nuclear generation is the largest U.S. source of zero-carbon power, some analysts tell Axios.

Why it matters: This underscores how climate advocates increasingly fearful of a wave of nuclear plant closures — a topic we recently explored here and here — are still without policy allies in the White House despite the Trump administration's support for the fuel.

The basic reason: More coal-fired plants face shutdowns in the coming years than nuclear plants absent strong federal intervention.

"I think more coal is likely to be at risk of shutdown from poor economics than nuclear, so the impact of subsidizing uneconomic plants would be even worse from a climate standpoint."
— Jason Bordoff, head of Columbia University's Center on Global Energy Policy, in an email

To be sure: Uncertainties abound, such as what White House policy will ultimately look like and the lost mix of natural gas, renewables and other resources that would have replaced coal and nuclear plants set to be kept afloat.

One possible future: Council on Foreign Relations energy expert Varun Sivaram was kind enough to do some back-of-the-envelope modeling.

  • He looked at the effect of freezing coal and nuclear generation at their 2017 levels, rather than allowing both to drop in accordance with the most recent Energy Information Administration long-term forecast.
  • "This results in more production from coal and nuclear; the additional coal electricity generated in 2025 is about 24% more than the additional nuclear electricity generated in 2025," Sivaram said in an email.
  • That would be enough to hinder the power sector's ongoing emissions reductions — he finds that the Trump administration's actions would result in between 0% to 5% higher emissions in 2025 relative to 2017, depending on how much gas versus renewables are displaced.
  • The big picture: "That's bad because we actually need to substantially decrease power sector emissions by 2025 in order to meet our Paris commitment," Sivaram said.

One level deeper: Two analysts with Resources For the Future (RFF), a nonpartisan think tank, say their modeling shows that preventing a "typical, unprofitable" one-gigawatt coal plant from closing causes 2.9 million tons of CO2 emissions per year.

  • Their short note over the weekend also says that preventing a money-losing one-gigawatt nuclear plant from closing reduces CO2 emissions by 3.5 million tons annually.

But, but, but: The RFF note points out that over the last four years, coal plants have been retiring at a rate of roughly eight gigawatts annually, while nuclear capacity retirements have been about one gigawatt annually for the last five years.

Going forward: The amount of power from a given source slated to go offline in the years ahead is a moving target — and a number of states are acting on their own to preserve their nuclear plants, most recently New Jersey.

  • That said, EIA's Electric Power Monthly includes a database of planned power station retirements.
  • And the consultancy ClearView Energy Partners, in a recent note which did not explore the carbon topic, projects that roughly 23 gigawatts of coal-fired capacity might be retired between now and mid-2027. That's substantially more than the amount of at-risk nuclear capacity.

Go deeper

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Photo: Bonnie Cash/Pool/AFP via Getty Images

Sen. Tim Scott (R-S.C.) told reporters on Wednesday that he believes President Trump "misspoke" when he told the far-right "Proud Boys" group to "stand back and stand by" in response to a question about condemning white supremacy at the first presidential debate.

Catch up quick: Moderator Chris Wallace asked Trump on Tuesday, "Are you willing, tonight, to condemn white supremacists and militia groups and to say that they need to stand down?" Trump asked who specifically he should condemn, and then responded, "Proud Boys, stand back and stand by. But I'll tell you what, somebody's got to do something about antifa and the left."

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Photos: Jim Watson and Saul Loeb/AFP via Getty Images

The Commission on Presidential Debates announced Wednesday that it plans to implement changes to rules for the remaining debates, after Tuesday night's head-to-head between Joe Biden and Donald Trump was practically incoherent for most of the night.

What they are saying: "Last night's debate made clear that additional structure should be added to the format of the remaining debates to ensure a more orderly discussion of the issues," the CPD said in a statement.

Trump says he doesn't know who Proud Boys are after telling them to "stand by"

President Trump told reporters on Wednesday that he doesn't know who the Proud Boys are, after saying at the presidential debate last night that the far-right group should "stand back and stand by" in response to a question asking him to condemn white supremacists.

Why it matters: The comments set off outrage and calls for clarification from a number of Republican senators. After being asked several times on Wednesday whether he will condemn white supremacy, Trump responded, "I have always denounced any form — any form of any of that, you have to denounce. But I also — Joe Biden has to say something about antifa."

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