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Trump's team rebuffs coal industry bid to ensure plants stay open

Matthew Brown / AP

The Trump administration has rejected a coal industry bid for the sweeping use of federal emergency powers to keep coal-fired power plants operating, according to a detailed Associated Press report.

  • The story focuses on a request for assistance from the coal mining company Murray Energy, whose CEO Robert Murray is a major Trump backer, for a two-year moratorium on coal-fired power plant closures.
  • But AP also notes there has been broader coal industry interest in a federal moratorium.
  • Why it matters: The pleas are a sign that administration steps to roll back Obama-era environmental regulations won't be enough, on their own, to save some coal plants as cheap natural gas, as well as renewable energy, eats into coal's market share.

Another is that the rejection of the Murray Energy CEO's request signals that while the administration is aggressively paring back regulations, there are limits to how far White House and other officials can or will go to directly prop up the sector.

In a statement to Axios, a White House spokesperson said:

"President Trump has followed through on his unwavering commitment to the nation's coal miners. Whether through repealing the Clean Power Plan and the 'Waters of the U.S. Rule,' removing the U.S. from the Paris Climate Agreement, or signing legislation to overturn rules and policies designed to stop coal mining, President Trump continues to fight for miners every day. Invoking Section 202(c) of the Federal Power Act in this manner at this time is not an appropriate use of this authority."

From AP: "The Energy Department says it considered issuing the order sought by companies seeking relief for plants it says are overburdened by environmental regulations and market stresses. But the department ultimately ruled it was unnecessary, and the White House agreed, a spokeswoman said."

The backstory: AP obtained letters from Murray to the White House claiming that President Trump had previously committed to the federal action in private talks with officials from Murray Energy and the power company FirstEnergy Solutions Corp.

Energy Secretary Rick Perry has already used the Federal Power Act twice in "narrow ways" at utilities' request to keep old coal-fired power plants running past their planned retirement dates, due to concerns that shutdowns could create power shortages, according to AP.

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