02/14/2019 03:14 PM EST
A federally owned utility dealt another blow to President Donald Trump’s effort to revive the coal industry, voting on Thursday to close two coal-fired power plants despite the president’s urging to keep one of them running.
The vote by the board of the Tennessee Valley Authority to close the Paradise #3 plant in Kentucky and Bull Run plant in Tennessee makes them the latest casualties to the coal industry that has seen hundreds of power generators retires in recent years because of competition from cheaper power sources, including natural gas and renewable energy.
TVA CEO Bill Johnson told board members at a Thursday meeting that neither of the plants were financially viable, since they rarely operated and that they sometimes lost money even when producing power.
“What this decision is not about: It is not about coal,” said Johnson, who is retiring in May. “This decision is about economics.“ Four of the seven current TVA board members are Trump appointees.
Trump has vowed to be a champion for the coal industry, and once
bragged “we’re bringing it back fast,” as he slashed Obama administration regulations coal companies blamed for choking off their business.
But the closure of coal-fired power plants has continued unabated, and even Trump’s
tweet on Monday calling for TVA to give “serious consideration” before decidind to retire the Kentucky plant didn’t help save it. That call was echoed by Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.), who asked the utility’s board to save — or at least postpone its decision on — the plant, which employs 131 people.
So far, 47 coal-fired power plants have announced their retirements or closed since Trump took office, according to the Sierra Club, and more are expected in coming years.
The demise of the plant — as well as the Bull Run plant, which TVA also voted to shutter — isn’t good news for two staunch Trump allies, coal magnate Bob Murray, founder of Murray Energy, and Joe Craft III, CEO of Alliance Resource Partners.
Both were big donors to Trump’s campaign and inauguration — Murray gave $100,000 to Trump’s PAC and $300,000 to Trump’s inauguration, while Craft gave $1 million to the inauguration committee, according to OpenSecrets.org. Both companies have supplied coal to the two plants.
“They can’t be happy that the one thing they wanted has been stymied,” an energy industry lobbyist said of the coal industry. “I know that the White House is going to try to do everything it can to mollify them because it hasn’t been able to give them the coup de grace.”
Trump’s EPA has moved to ease environmental rules governing water pollution, air pollution, and carbon dioxide restrictions, but the efforts have given little respite for the coal industry. According to Bloomberg New Energy Finance, 20 coal plants representing 16 gigawatts of capacity closed last year, which was second only to 2015 for coal retirements,
“I consider Trump’s promise to save coal as kind of the snake oil political promise designed to pray on people’s fears about our changing energy economy,” said Mary Anne Hitt, director of the Sierra Club’s Beyond Coal Program. “The reality is we make decisions at the state and local levels, but we don’t make them in Washington, D.C. Whether he was aware of that when he ran for president, I don’t know, but he has run smack into that realty.”