Sixteen months into the job, President Donald Trump has largely failed to deliver on his campaign promise to “put our miners back to work.” Despite halting more than 40 environmental regulations, coal plants are still closing at a staggering rate. Demand for coal continues to decline, too, and no new plants are being built.
But the Trump administration isn’t giving up on coal quite yet. On Thursday, Bloomberg’s Jennifer Dlouhy released the details of their new plan: to make electricity grid operators buy coal-fired power, whether they want to or not.
The 41-page plan—circulated before the National Security Council meeting on Friday and obtained by Dlouhy—says Trump officials plan to justify their directive by using a Cold War–era law called the Defense Production Act, which allows the federal government to intervene in markets during national security emergencies. Coal industry players have long argued that coal’s decline is a national security issue, because the renewable energy it’s being replaced with is unreliable. The loudest such player has been Robert Murray, a Trump donor and coal company CEO, who said last month that the federal government needed to bail out the industry in order “to make sure grandma doesn’t die on the operating table.”
Independent energy analysts have largely rejected this argument, saying adding renewable energy actually increases the reliability of the grid. If Trump does bail out the industry, perhaps some of those new profits can go toward the federal Black Lung Disability Trust Fund, which helps cover medical expenses for ex-coal miners with black lung disease. The fund is at immediate risk of insolvency due to shrinking contributions from coal companies, according to a Reuters report.