Coal powers homes throughout the nation, and it helps fuel Wyoming’s economy. For many, it keeps the lights on in more ways than one.
When coal busted in 2015, Wyomingites were among those hit hardest in the nation. And though things are starting to look up for the industry, the golden days of coal are likely over.
But instead of looking to coal’s new future, the Trump administration is seeking to prop up its past.
A leaked memo from the Department of Energy has revealed a proposal to ensure that coal isn’t left behind by the free market. Per the plan, the U.S. government would buy electricity from a number of coal-fired and nuclear power plants that are failing for a period of two years.
The plan comes as many older coal-fired power plants have begun to shut down in the face of declining demand and the cost of retrofitting facilities to meet environmental regulations.
This, of course, means fewer jobs and less coal-fired electricity contributing to the nation’s power grid.
It also means that, 1.5 years into a pro-coal administration, coal’s reality remains unchanging.
And to be clear, we recognize that coal isn’t obsolete, or even soon to be. And we also recognize that preserving the industry means preserving the livelihood of much of the state.
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Coal is a bedrock for Wyoming, even as it faces increasing competition from other energy sources. And as coal works to find its footing in the new normal, some are looking for innovative ways to revitalize the industry – by implementing alternative uses for coal or investing in carbon capture.
We think these kinds of efforts toward long-term solutions should be the focus of anyone wishing to truly preserve the coal industry and the many men and women who depend on it.
This DOE potential directive is not a long-term solution. It’s only prolonging the inevitable; and at what cost?
As Wyoming politicians are fond of saying, it isn’t the job of the federal government to pick winners and losers in business. If the Trump administration eliminates subsidies for renewable energies, or dismantles the Clean Power Plan in order to reduce some of the regulatory burden on the industry, that’s one way to deliver on campaign promises.
But this bailout is going too far.
The legislation that allows the Department of Energy to implement such a demand is intended for short-term use in times of energy emergency. Though the administration’s proposal relies on the idea that the energy grid is endangered by the continued closure of coal and nuclear plants, this reasoning has been questioned by both the Department of Energy and the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission.
Coal’s place in the energy sector has changed. Investing in our past will only shortchange us in the future.