In a perversion of a Cold War-era law meant to protect the power grid as an element of national security, President Donald Trump has ordered Energy Secretary Rick Perry to stop the shutdown of failing coal and nuclear power plants that no longer can compete in the energy marketplace.
The exact mechanism that Perry will use is not yet known. But one proposal he has floated would be to use the national security authority to order grid operators to buy power from producers that have 90-day supplies of fuel on site. Only nuclear and coal-powered plants store fuel on site. Natural gas is delivered continuously to plants through pipelines, and renewable energy generators rely on steady streams of wind, sunlight or water.
Protecting the power grid obviously is crucial. But grid operators themselves, including the massive PJM Interconnection covering this region, already have told the administration that there is abundant generation capacity, and that generation issues do not threaten the grid.
The idea to misuse the Defense Production Act of 1950 first was proposed to the administration by the coal-mining firm Murray Energy and the Ohio nuclear plant operator FirstEnergy, both of which have been major Trump political supporters.
Trump’s plan is a particularly grotesque example of crony capitalism. It will increase energy prices for everyone to bail out a few favored interests that have been eclipsed by better options in the marketplace. And in the case of coal, it will increase costs and pollution.
Other elements of the energy sector and environmentalists should be ready to go to court together to prevent this stunning misuse of a law meant to protect the nation rather than protect political donors.