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A view of the inactive cooling towers at FirstEnergy Corporation's coal-fired power plant on October 27, 2017, in Shippingport, Pennsylvania. Photo: Robert Nickelsberg via Getty Images

President Trump is again trying to make good on his campaign promise to revive coal — this time by ordering Energy Secretary Rick Perry to “prepare immediate steps” to support economically struggling “fuel-secure” nuclear and coal plants.

Why it matters: The subsidies required for this bailout proposal would only mask the true underlying problem: Coal has simply lost out to other technologies and fuel sources.

The big picture: Subsidies have a place and purpose — namely, to help nascent technologies achieve economies of scale. But it's economically and environmentally irresponsible to subsidize 135-year-old technology that can no longer compete against newer, more efficient options. Cheap natural gas and, to a lesser extent, renewables have reduced wholesale market prices to the point where coal can no longer make money in many locations.

Be smart: In a way, we already subsidize greenhouse gas emissions by not putting a price on the damage they cause. If the Trump administration wanted to save nuclear power without directly intervening in the markets, one option would be to remove environmental pollution subsidies by putting a price on carbon. Because nuclear power has some of the lowest carbon emissions of any energy source, a price on carbon would let nuclear plants, especially existing ones, compete in a more equitable market that acknowledges fossil fuel emissions' harmful effects. (It could also represent a bipartisan compromise.)

The bottom line: There are reasonable measures the government can take to support struggling energy industries — and in the case of nuclear power, removing pollution subsidies could be an arguably justified intervention. However, only abject market manipulation and more subsides can stem the economic forces that are killing coal.

Joshua Rhodes is a research associate in the Webber Energy Group and the Energy Institute at the University of Texas at Austin.

Go deeper

Dan Primack, author of Pro Rata
1 hour ago - Technology

TikTok gets more time (again)

Illustration: Aïda Amer/Axios

The White House is again giving TikTok's Chinese parent company more to satisfy national security concerns, rather than initiating legal action, a source familiar with the situation tells Axios.

The state of play: China's ByteDance had until Friday to resolve issues raised by the Committee on Foreign Investment in the U.S. (CFIUS), which is chaired by Treasury secretary Steve Mnuchin. This was the company's third deadline, with CFIUS having provided two earlier extensions.

Federal judge orders Trump administration to restore DACA

DACA recipients and their supporters rally outside the U.S. Supreme Court on June 18. Photo: Drew Angerer via Getty

A federal judge on Friday ordered the Trump administration to fully restore the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program, giving undocumented immigrants who arrived in the U.S. as children a chance to petition for protection from deportation.

Why it matters: DACA was implemented under former President Obama, but President Trump has sought to undo the program since taking office. Friday’s ruling will require Department of Homeland Security officers to begin accepting applications starting Monday and guarantee that work permits are valid for two years.

Updated 4 hours ago - Politics & Policy

Coronavirus dashboard

Illustration: Aïda Amer/Axios

  1. Politics: Fauci says he accepted Biden's offer to be chief medical adviser "on the spot" — The recovery needs rocket fuel.
  2. Health: CDC: It's time for "universal face mask use" — Death rates rising across the country — Study: Increased testing can reduce transmission.
  3. Economy: U.S. economy adds 245,000 jobs in November as recovery slows — America's hidden depression: K-shaped recovery threatens Biden administration.
  4. Cities: Bay Area counties to enact stay-at-home order ahead of state mandate
  5. Vaccine: What vaccine trials still need to do.
  6. World: UN warns "2021 is literally going to be catastrophic"
  7. 🎧 Podcast: Former FDA chief Rob Califf on the vaccine approval process.