On Friday, June 1, President Trump ordered Energy Secretary Rick Perry to help coal and nuclear power plants by immediately halting their shutdown. According to the White House, these power plants are an important part of the United States’ energy mix and electric grid. The White House worries the country’s electric grid is at risk. The Washington Post reported that the Trump administration is looking to “invoke emergency powers granted by Cold War era legislation [the Defense Production Act of 1950 and the Federal Power Act] to order regional grid operators to buy electricity from ailing coal and nuclear power plants.” Energy analysts say the legislation is meant for short-term emergencies and that it would be bad to use the legislation for ailing coal and nuclear power plants. These plants are ailing and have struggled mightily because they have been having trouble competing with cheaper forms of electricity generating by natural gas and renewable energy.
One potential way the Trump administration may help coal and nuclear power plants, detailed in a 41-page draft memo, would be to favor certain plants which are owned by some of Trump’s political allies in the coal industry. According to the memo, the Energy Department would order regional grid operators to give preference to power plants who regularly keep fuel on site. Only coal and nuclear power plants do this. In a statement, PJM Interconnection, the country’s largest regional grid operator (which serves the Mid-Atlantic and Midwest), opposes the Trump administration’s order: “that there is no immediate threat to system reliability. Markets have helped to establish a reliable grid with historically low prices. Any federal intervention in the market to order customers to buy electricity from specific power plants would be damaging to the markets and therefore costly to consumers…There is no need for such drastic action.” Environmental groups have also criticized the draft memo, arguing it is an attempt by the Trump administration to bail out coal supporters.