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Trump’s Energy Department pursuing small coal power plants

A coal train in front of a coal fired power plant.
A train carrying cars loaded with coal. Photo: Matt McClain/The Washington Post via Getty Images.

HOUSTON — The Trump administration is set to ask companies to help the government develop small-scale coal-fired power plants, a top agency official told Axios Tuesday on the sidelines of a major energy conference here.

Why it matters: Such technology is largely unheard of — today’s coal-fired power plants in the U.S. are big and not easily turned on or off. The Energy Department’s pursuit of these plants among the strongest signals of President Trump’s desire to revive coal despite market trends going in the opposite direction.

Gritty details: Steve Winberg, assistant secretary for fossil energy at the department, said smaller coal plants would be able to better complement an electricity grid that has growing amounts of intermittent wind and solar power and be able to include other technology that captures carbon emissions

Another department official said the funding opportunity would be “competitive and require a cost share.” The department plans to issue a request for proposal on initial designs, and then will do more conditional on funding, the official said.

Winberg didn’t mention climate change as a concern, reiterating the Trump administration’s overall position of dismissing the issue altogether. But when pressed he said: “I think climate change is a big concern by many people so we have to address it.”

The big picture: Coal-fired electricity in America, by far the dirtiest source, has been declining over the last decade because of cheap natural gas, environmental regulations, increased concern about climate change and renewable energy.

Winberg says he hopes coal could survive if these small power plants are successful even amid market trends going the other direction.

“If we’re successful with these small modular coal plants … that could be a paradigm shift,” Winberg said.

Jesse Jenkins, an energy analyst getting his Ph.D at the Massachusetts Institute for Technology, said he hadn’t heard of small modular coal plants in any modern context. “You mean like the kind we used to build in 1920?” He said. “It sounds like going backwards to an earlier generation of smaller plants.”

Dan Primack 2 hours ago
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Why the stock markets are tanking

Stock market trader adjusts his glasses.
Photo by Xinhua/Wang Ying via Getty Images

Stock markets are down sharply on Thursday, with the Dow Jones Industrial Average off around 1.5% as of noon.

Three key drivers: Tariffs, inter-bank lending rates and Facebook's troubles.

Caitlin Owens 3 hours ago
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How Congress missed yet another chance for an immigration deal

Congressional leaders with President Trump
Congressional leaders with President Trump. Photo: Olivier Douliery - Pool / Getty Images

Here are the proposals Congressional leaders and the White House traded over the past week to give at least temporary protections to Dreamers as part of a giant spending bill. The sides ultimately couldn't come to agreement and the issue remains unresolved.

Why it matters: After all of the fighting over President Trump's decision to end DACA — including a government shutdown over it — the White House and Congress ended up with nothing. The issue is currently tied up in the courts. And though both sides agree it's better to give Dreamers more certainty over their future, they just can't agree how to do it.