Democrats, Perry clash over coal, nu­clear power

Arkansas Democrat-Gazette - - NATIONAL - ALAN FRAM

WASH­ING­TON — Con­gres­sional Democrats ac­cused Pres­i­dent Don­ald Trump’s ad­min­is­tra­tion Thurs­day of falsely sug­gest­ing the na­tion’s elec­tric­ity grid faces se­vere prob­lems to jus­tify an un­nec­es­sary bol­ster­ing of the coal and nu­clear en­ergy in­dus­tries.

En­ergy Sec­re­tary Rick Perry de­fended his de­part­ment’s pro­posal, telling a House en­ergy sub­com­mit­tee that the coun­try must strengthen its sys­tems for de­liv­er­ing power. The plan would re­ward nu­clear and coal-fired power plants for adding what it calls re­li­a­bil­ity to the na­tion’s power grid.

“I don’t think any of you want to have to stand up in front of your con­stituents and ex­plain to peo­ple why the de­ci­sion had to be turn­ing our lights on and keep­ing our fam­ily warm,” Perry told law­mak­ers.

“If the wind quits blow­ing, if the sun quits shin­ing, if the gas trans­mis­sion line is cor­rupted in some way, there’s still peo­ple who are go­ing to get power,” the for­mer Texas gover­nor said.

Democrats on the panel didn’t buy that ar­gu­ment, say­ing the agency’s plan was sim­ply a way of aid­ing two ailing branches of the en­ergy industry.

“Un­der the guise of a cri­sis of grid re­li­a­bil­ity, this pro­posal props up coal and nu­clear gen­er­a­tion,” said New Jersey Rep. Frank Pal­lone, the top Demo­crat on the House En­ergy and Com­merce Com­mit­tee.

Pal­lone said he was for­mally ask­ing the En­ergy De­part­ment to pro­vide records of how it devel­oped the plan “that seems di­rected at help­ing a se­lect group of fa­vored en­ergy sources.”

Dur­ing his pres­i­den­tial cam­paign, Trump re­peat­edly voiced sup­port for the coal and nu­clear in­dus­tries. Coal use has di­min­ished as re­liance on nat­u­ral gas and other less ex­pen­sive sources of en­ergy have pro­lif­er­ated, and nu­clear en­ergy faces prob­lems, such as where to store ra­dioac­tive waste.

Man­u­fac­tur­ers and other crit­ics say there is no ev­i­dence of a threat to the grid’s day-to-day re­li­a­bil­ity that would jus­tify the emer­gency ac­tion Perry is seek­ing.

In an Au­gust re­port com­mis­sioned by Perry, the En­ergy De­part­ment said “re­li­a­bil­ity is ad­e­quate to­day de­spite the re­tire­ment of 11 per­cent of the gen­er­at­ing ca­pac­ity avail­able in 2002, as sig­nif­i­cant ad­di­tions from nat­u­ral gas, wind, and so­lar have come on­line since then.”

Perry said the plan is needed to help pre­vent wide­spread power fail­ures, such as those caused by Hur­ri­canes Har­vey, Irma and Maria and an ex­treme cold snap in 2014 called the “po­lar vor­tex” in the east­ern and cen­tral U.S.

The agency plan aims to re­verse a steady tide of re­tire­ments of coal and nu­clear plants, which have lost mar­ket share as nat­u­ral gas and re­new­able en­ergy flour­ish. It would com­pen­sate power plant own­ers that main­tain a 90-day fuel sup­ply pro­tected against the ele­ments and is ex­pected to cost bil­lions of dol­lars.

Perry’s plan co­in­cides with Trump’s vow to achieve U.S. “en­ergy dom­i­nance” while end­ing what he and other Repub­li­cans call a “war on coal” waged by for­mer Pres­i­dent Barack Obama’s ad­min­is­tra­tion. Perry has said he wants to “make nu­clear en­ergy cool again.”

En­vi­ron­men­tal groups say the plan would boost dirty fu­els and harm con­sumers, while the en­ergy industry warns about in­ter­fer­ence in the free mar­ket and man­u­fac­tur­ers com­plain about higher en­ergy prices that could be passed on to con­sumers.

The In­dus­trial En­ergy Con­sumers of Amer­ica, a trade group that rep­re­sents Dow Chem­i­cal, Koch In­dus­tries, U.S. Steel Corp. and other man­u­fac­tur­ing gi­ants, said in a let­ter to Congress that the pro­posal could “de­stroy com­pet­i­tive whole­sale elec­tric­ity mar­kets, in­crease the price of elec­tric­ity to all con­sumers” and harm U.S. man­u­fac­tur­ing.

Coal and nu­clear groups have praised the plan. Na­tional Min­ing As­so­ci­a­tion Pres­i­dent and CEO Hal Quinn called Perry’s ac­tion “a long-over­due and nec­es­sary step to ad­dress the vul­ner­a­bil­ity of Amer­ica’s en­ergy grid.”

The En­ergy De­part­ment seeks fi­nal ac­tion by mid-De­cem­ber, al­though industry groups and some mem­bers of Congress have pushed for a de­lay.

AP/J. SCOTT APPLEWHITE

En­ergy Sec­re­tary Rick Perry tes­ti­fies Thurs­day be­fore House En­ergy and Com­merce Com­mit­tee mem­bers about his agency’s pro­posal for bol­ster­ing the coun­try’s elec­tric power net­work.

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