At first blush, Rick Perry’s failure yesterday is the result of an obscure policy fight, but the closer one looks at what happened, the more interesting it becomes. The Washington Post reported on the outcome:
The Federal Energy Regulatory Commission on Monday unanimously rejected a proposal by Energy Secretary Rick Perry that would have propped up nuclear and coal power plants struggling in competitive electricity markets.
The independent five-member commission includes four people appointed by President Trump, three of them Republicans. Its decision is binding.
To appreciate why the end of the dispute matters, it’s worth understanding how we reached this point.
The coal and nuclear industries have more than a few old power plants, which are struggling badly in the energy marketplace, and which are widely seen as obsolete. Trump administration officials, eager to help their political allies, worked with the industry and its lobbyists on a plan to prop up those plants in ways the market has not. Indeed, the president had run on a platform of rescuing some of these coal plants, and so Trump World had to think of something in order to deliver on the promise.
The result was, well, a little bizarre. As Vox explained a few months ago, Rick Perry unveiled a proposed solution in which utility companies would pay coal and nuclear power plants “for all their costs and all the power they produce, whether those plants are needed or not.”
No, seriously, that was the plan. Consumers – which is to say, us – would effectively bail out obsolete plants, creating unnatural profits for their owners, even if utility companies had more affordable alternatives, and even if the plants themselves are not economically viable, because the Trump administration would mandate it.
Asked a congressional hearing in October whether he considered the costs to the public, Perry replied, “I think you take costs into account, but what’s the cost of freedom?”
With that in mind, Trump’s Energy secretary also said the country has no choice but to prop up obsolete plants – because there’s an energy grid crisis that requires those plants to remain strong. This argument also soon crumbled under scrutiny.
But Perry nevertheless plowed forward, asking the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) to approve his plan. Yesterday, the commission, led by a Republican majority, rejected Perry’s proposal, killing the ridiculous plan.
Even Trump-appointed members of the FERC simply couldn’t go along with this one.
That’s a sensible outcome, but I’d love to see a broader conversation about why Trump’s Department of Energy thought this was an idea worth pursuing in the first place.