Quinn Dombrowski / Flickr Smokestacks...
Quinn Dombrowski / Flickr

Donald Trump is going to make America burn coal. Even if that means more expensive electricity, more pollution, and a less efficient electrical grid. At the EPA, Scott Pruitt—champion of oil and gas fracking and enemy of any regulation for any reason—was already busy overruling scientists and blowing through a million bucks for personal protection and charter flights. Destroying everything the EPA has done to protect the planet since its inception is clearly too much for one person. So Donald Trump is bringing Pruitt some help.

President Trump on Thursday nominated Andrew R. Wheeler, a coal lobbyist with links to outspoken deniers of established science on climate change, to help lead the Environmental Protection Agency.

A climate change denying coal lobbyist … how could Wheeler get even better? He also has “aide to Senator James M. Inhofe” in his CV.

Since 2009, Mr. Wheeler has been a leader in the energy practice of the law firm Faegre Baker Daniels. His clients at the firm have included Murray Energy, one of the nation’s largest coal mining companies. Before joining the firm, he worked on Capitol Hill for more than a decade, much of that time serving under Senator Inhofe as the Oklahoma Republican’s chief counsel and as the staff director for the Senate Committee on Environment and Public Works.

Murray Energy would be the company famously featured on John Oliver’s show as an example of both Trump’s insane appeal to coal miners, and for founder Bob Murray’s conversation with a talking squirrel. All in all, it’s hard to think of a more perfect partner for Pruitt. But the EPA is just one part of the one-two punch to force America to burn coal.

The nomination comes at a critical moment for the E.P.A. as the agency prepares to repeal a sweeping climate change regulation known as the Clean Power Plan. It would also fill a key high-level position at the agency, where many top offices remain vacant. If confirmed by the Senate, Mr. Wheeler would become the most powerful person at the agency behind its administrator, Scott Pruitt.

Why is the EPA attempting to reverse the Clean Power Plan? No reason. Much of the plan was yet to be implemented, but simple market forces have been pushing change forward more quickly than the regulations would demand. 

Wind electricity generating capacity at the end of 2016 was 82 gigawatts (GW). EIA expects wind capacity additions in the forecast to bring total wind capacity to 88 GW by the end of 2017 and to 96 GW by the end of 2018.

Over that same period of just two years, solar generation is expected to increase by 50 percent.

Total utility-scale solar electricity generating capacity at the end of 2016 was 22 GW. EIA expects solar capacity additions in the forecast will bring total utility-scale solar capacity to 29 GW by the end of 2017 and to 33 GW by the end of 2018.

Over that same period, additional coal plants are expected to be idled. Because of subsidies? Because of restrictions? No. Because wind and solar are now simply cheaper.

Except … coal power is now expected to reverse a long slide and tick up by one percent in 2017 and another in 2018. What’s keeping coal in place despite market forces that would seem to demand plant retirements continue to accelerate? Donald Trump.

Over at the Department of Energy, Rick Perry is taking steps to make sure that coal companies get a lifeline in terms of both funds and regulations that increase the requirements for “reliable” energy sources.

The Secretary is proposing … to ensure that certain reliability and resilience attributes of electrical generation resources are fully valued.

What does that sentence mean? It means that the DOE is going to support and require the presence of plants with a “90 day supply of fuel on-site.” Don’t wind and solar have an infinite supply of on-site fuel? Not under the DOE definition. In fact, not even power plants burning natural gas need apply. The DOE plan calls the change in the electrical supply as it trended away from coal “premature.” 

This is strictly a ploy to force power grids to use coal and nuclear. They’re all that meet the new definition. In fact, some of the language in the regulation would require power grids to depend more heavily on coal and nuclear, and require power plants to keep more coal on hand to guard against “supply disruptions.”  

The result of this would be that energy providers are forced to keep 40-year-old coal plants operating, even if they want to close them. And those plants are forced to buy more coal, even if they don’t want it. There’s no market for coal … so Trump is doing his best to create one.

It’s a plan that will make electrical rates higher, slow America’s transition to clean energy sources, accelerate climate change, and pair with decreased regulations on dumping mine waste in streams to spell an ongoing environmental disaster.

And it’s a plan that’s sure to meet approval over at the Trump EPA.

“In Andrew Wheeler, the President has tapped yet another fossil fuel industry lobbyist to help in the capture of the Environmental Protection Agency for big polluters,” [Senator Sheldon Whitehouse] said. “He shouldn’t be allowed anywhere near the office to which he’s been nominated, but here we are.”

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This is a Creative Commons article. The original version of this article appeared here.


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