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Trump Taxpayer-Funded Coal and Nuclear Bailout Decried as 'Breathtaking Abuse of Authority'

Critics called the plan an "outrageous ploy" by Trump "to help his rich friends" at the expense of Americans' pocketbooks and the environment

Jessica Corbett

President Donald Trump has ordered the Energy Department to craft a plan to bail out at-risk coal and nuclear energy plants. (Photo: AFP/Getty Images)

Environmental advocates on Friday responded with outrage to confirmation from the White House that President Donald Trump has ordered Energy Secretary Rick Perry to plot what's being called an "unprecedented intervention" by the federal government to bail out financially strapped coal and nuclear power plants that can't compete with the renewable energy sector.

"The taxpayers should never be asked to bail out wealthy fossil fuel executives who are trying to pollute our air and water with their dirty, dangerous fuels, and bad decisions."
—Mary Anne Hitt,
Sierra Club

"This is an outrageous ploy to force American taxpayers to bail out coal and nuclear executives who have made bad decisions by investing in dirty and dangerous energy resources," declared Mary Anne Hitt, director of the Sierra Club's Beyond Coal campaign.

Ahead of a National Security Council meeting on Friday, Bloomberg News obtained an Energy Department memo detailing plans to use emergency authority under two federal laws to require grid operators to buy electricity from at-risk coal and nuclear facilities and establish a "Strategic Electric Generation Reserve."

The document argues such moves are necessary for homeland security and energy independence. White House Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders responded to the report with a statement confirming Trump has instructed Perry "to prepare immediate steps to stop the loss of these resources," claiming the need to protect the grid "from intentional attacks and natural disasters."

Rejecting the administration's argument that preserving coal plants is essential to national security as "surreal" and "madness" contradicted by experts, Earthjustice staff attorney Kim Smaczniak pointed out that clean energy sources like wind and solar "make the grid safer from attack," and even "the U.S. military is increasingly turning to solar, not coal, to ensure resilience at military bases."

The Energy Department proposal outlined in the memo follows a previous plan rejected by federal regulators last year, which would have given subsidies to nuclear and coal plants on the grounds of providing "resilience" to the electric grid.

"That attempt was rightfully denied by the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, which determined that market rates and processes are indeed sufficient to meet national energy demand," noted Mike Jacobs, a senior energy analyst for the Union of Concerned Scientists.

"The Trump administration is trying, once again, to fleece ratepayers by giving coal and nuclear power plants billions of dollars in guaranteed profits," he added, calling the new proposal an "absurd" abuse of authority.

While green groups refuted the administration's claims that the new plan would further protect the grid, chief executive of Bloomberg L.P. and former New York City Mayor Mike Bloomberg posited that "bailing out polluting, unprofitable coal plants has nothing to do with national security and everything to do with special interests in Washington."

Throughout his first term, Trump has often catered to the fossil fuel industry's demands, and has even stocked his administration with former lobbyists.

"Trump will clearly try anything to help millionaire coal and nuclear executives," Hitt concluded. "Every grid operator has unequivocally stated that there is no grid emergency, yet Donald Trump is trying to invent one to help his rich friends."

"The taxpayers should never be asked to bail out wealthy fossil fuel executives who are trying to pollute our air and water with their dirty, dangerous fuels, and bad decisions," Hitt added, vowing that Trumps's "effort to push these illegal directives will be met with fierce resistance in the courts and in the streets."

The developments come on the one-year anniversary of Trump's announcement he would withdraw the United States from the Paris climate agreement, which aims to decrease fossil fuel use to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and limit global temperature rise within this century to 2 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels.

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