President Donald Trump's Department of Energy (DOE), headed by climate-denier Rick Perry, released a report on Wednesday that green groups and environmentalists are denouncing as an attempt to "justify bailing out dirty" coal and nuclear plants.
"There's no reason in the world to keep coal plants open."
—David Roberts, Vox
Perry commissioned the study in April, and just three months later a draft of the findings, which contradicted Perry's claim that wind and solar energy are harming the U.S. energy grid, was leaked. At the time, many expressed concern that Trump administration officials would suppress or alter any results that contradicted their adamantly pro-coal, pro-nuclear stance.
The release of the official report shows that the DOE chose not to fully suppress unwelcome findings. Rather, as Vox's David Roberts notes, "Perry and his staff took a perfectly solid report on the grid and added a (surprisingly light, to my eye) coating of political propaganda."
The final outcome is a report "just muddy enough for the coal lobby and the energy storage lobby to see what they want in it," Roberts writes. "But the bones of the analysis remain the same and still indicate the same conclusion: There's no reason in the world to keep coal plants open and only one reason to keep nuclear plants open—climate change, which the report never mentions."
Mary Anne Hitt, director of Sierra Club's Beyond Coal campaign, argued that "Perry took a well-crafted, insightful draft report from nonpartisan Department of Energy professionals and tried to make it into a talking points memo for coal and nuclear subsidies."
Since taking office in January, President Donald Trump has moved swiftly to dismantle the regulatory achievements of his predecessor, and reports have indicated that the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) is taking policy direction straight from polluters' "wish list."
Though the DOE report will not have immediate policy consequences, it is an indication that the Trump administration is still refusing to "face the facts—thanks to growth in renewable energy and efficiency, America's demand for electricity is flatlining, and clean energy options like solar and wind power are outperforming dirty energy like coal," said Oil Change International's U.S. policy director Janet Redman in response to the report's official release.
Because of Perry's willingness to evade the findings of his department's researchers, the study ultimately shows "that science is not safe from manipulation under this administration," concluded Kim Smaczniak, an attorney for Earthjustice.
"This report is not worth the paper it's printed on," Smaczniak said.
Other green groups largely agreed with this assessment.
"Perry took a well-crafted, insightful draft report from nonpartisan Department of Energy professionals and tried to make it into a talking points memo for coal and nuclear subsidies."
—Mary Anne Hitt, Sierra Club
Sierra Club noted in a statement that the earlier leaked draft report "found that wind and solar energy strongly contributed to the affordability, reliability, and resilience of the grid; lowered prices for customers; and would continue to grow rapidly into the future."
As author and environmentalist Bill McKibben observed in his recent feature piece for In These Times, support for a move toward 100 percent renewable energy is growing.
On Wednesday, Stanford University professor Mark Jacobson and 26 collaborators demonstrated that such a move would be both practical and extremely effective by creating "clean energy roadmaps not just for the 50 United States, but for 139 individual countries."
While—judging by their analysis—DOE researchers are aware of the benefits of renewable energy sources, Perry and the Trump administration appear to be content to ignore them, given that their recommendations diverge so sharply from the researchers' findings.
"Some of the report's recommendations echo the unsubstantiated claim that coal and nuclear plants are needed for grid reliability, and recommend that rules be changed to compensate them regardless of their competitiveness against cleaner, cheaper, and more flexible energy sources like wind and solar," Sierra Club noted. "But the facts throughout the report don't support those conclusions."