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Trump’s coal fixation will harm Americans’ health and wallets

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Earlier this month, President Trump ordered Energy Secretary Rick Perry to intervene in electricity markets to prop up failing coal power plants, falsely claiming the effort was needed to protect electricity grid reliability for national security reasons.

In truth, the action amounts only to a war on the working- and middle-class energy consumers Trump claims to care about, all to indulge his political fixation with “saving coal.”  

{mosads}Yet, this unprecedented intervention in electricity markets is only the latest Trump decision that would raise consumer energy costs and put taxpayers at risk. 


Leaving the Iran nuclear deal, for example, put upward pressure on global oil prices, increasing gasoline prices average Americans pay at the pump. 

The administration has also developed a plan, now at the Office of Management and Budget, to roll back fuel efficiency increases, even though when Trump met recently with auto companies their CEOs said they were not looking for a rollback.  

Freezing these standards will cost buyers more than $1,600 over the lifetime of a new car mostly through additional fuel consumption, according to EPA’s own analysis, and will increase U.S. reliance of foreign oil. 

Last year, the administration attempted to coerce the independent Federal Energy Regulatory Commission to subsidize coal and nuclear power, again falsely claiming grid security benefits. Instead, the five-member commission including three Trump appointees, unanimously rejected the proposal in January.  

That effort, like Trump’s latest foray into electricity markets, was widely seen within the industry as a radical attempt to undermine competitive electricity markets that have benefitted consumers, made U.S. industry more competitive through lower power prices and enjoyed bipartisan support for decades.

And both plans would only benefit a handful of highly coal-intensive utilities like First Energy and coal-mining companies like Murray Energy, whose CEO Robert Murray recently gave $1 million to the Trump’s campaign PAC while explicitly lobbying for preferential treatment of coal.  

In fact, new documents show the White House took specific actions to limit coal regulations based on memos from Murray. Even right-wing conservative critics are crying foul, calling the effort “swampy.”

Coal is losing market share because natural gas and renewable energy are becoming very cheap, and because utilities do not want the burden of cleaning up coal’s dangerous pollutants, including mercury, sulfur dioxide and nitrogen oxide.

Coal’s toll on air quality and public health is massive, costing Americans between $350 billion and $880 billion per year and accounting for more than 10 percent of all health-care costs, according a 2015 study by experts at EPA.   

Utilities CEOs are also concerned about being saddled with coal’s high carbon dioxide emissions that cause climate change, and that are roughly double per kilowatt hour the carbon emissions from natural gas. 

Nicholas Akins, CEO of American Electric Power, a major utility that uses coal and generates power in 11 states, has said carbon emissions will eventually be regulated. “…there will be something in the future on carbon control. So there’s no question that the industry is moving forward with cleaner energy.” 

Exelon CEO Chris Crane took issue with the administration’s claim of a grid emergency and said he would much prefer a “market fix” to problem of coal and nuclear plants being less competitive. Thus, Trump would actually be forcing utilities to use more coal than they want or need to.  

National security experts, for their part, are stunned and dismayed that the administration is preparing to use an obscure Cold War-era provision intended for war-time emergencies for this purpose.

None of this accounts for the already huge and growing costs of climate change impacts to American consumers, homeowners, taxpayers, businesses and local governments.

While Trump continues to deny the irrefutable connection between carbon dioxide emissions and climate change, peer-reviewed studies show that increased temperatures due to global warming made Hurricane Harvey and other storms last year more powerful and expensive.  

The costs to American taxpayers of hurricanes made larger by warmer Gulf of Mexico waters in 2017 alone is already more than $130 billion and still rising. 

In fact, huge storms and hurricanes most exacerbated by climate change, cause by far the greatest harm to electric grid reliability the administration claims to want to protect, as the shameful events in Puerto Rico in the aftermath of Hurricane Maria and in Houston after Hurricane Harvey made clear.  

Americans citizens in most of Puerto Rico went months without electricity, and a new Harvard study says the lack of power played a role in the deaths of thousands more citizens than previously estimated. 

During the campaign, Trump boasted that he could “save coal” though even his allies like Robert Murray say it will be impossible to bring back coal mining jobs.

But Trump loves nothing more than to deny the undeniable, to show that he can alone can overcome market economics, factual information and irrefutable science through sheer lies and political manipulation, no matter who gets hurt.

He doesn’t care that subsidizing coal will injure the health of countless Americans and raise prices on the very consumers and taxpayers he claims to represent. He’s not concerned about protecting the electric grid, or the hardships that climate change is causing our citizens and our long-term security.  

He just seems to care about manipulating the right-wing media narrative toward “saving coal” for the greater glory of Trump. 

Paul Bledsoe is strategic advisor at the Progressive Policy Institute and a lecturer at American University. He served on the White House Climate Change Task Force under President Clinton.

Tags Carbon tax Climate change policy Coal Coal mining Donald Trump Economic geology Energy Fossil fuel phase-out Fossil fuel power station Fuels Nuclear power Rick Perry Universe

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