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Trump intervenes in support of coal plant owned by major donor

A coal train waits to leave a coal yard in rural West Virginia.
A coal train waits to leave a coal yard in rural West Virginia.

Imagine a scenario in which an investigative reporter uncovered a secret document from the White House. The document, in this hypothetical, showed Donald Trump using the power of his office to pressure a public agency to do a favor for one of his campaign supporters, who has an obsolete coal plant, but who has the president trying to pull strings for him behind the scenes.

In this scenario, the investigative reporter would have quite a scoop. It's the kind of story that raises questions about corruption and abuses at the highest levels.

In 2019, however, we apparently don't need an investigative reporter to uncover such a controversial document -- because Donald Trump will simply put all of this on Twitter without a whole lot of thought.

"Coal is an important part of our electricity generation mix," the president wrote yesterday, "and [the Tennessee Valley Authority] should give serious consideration to all factors before voting to close viable power plants, like Paradise #3 in Kentucky!"

And why, pray tell, would Trump take time out of his crushingly busy schedule to lobby the Tennessee Valley Authority in support of a single aging coal plant? Because as Politico reported overnight, the president apparently wants to help one of his top supporters, who's eager to keep the TVA as a customer.

[Trump's] missive came just days before the TVA board is slated to vote on the future of Paradise Unit 3, a 49-year-old coal plant that the federally owned utility has said would be too expensive to keep operating.The 1,150-megawatt plant gets the bulk of its coal from a subsidiary of Murray Energy, according to data from the Energy Information Administration. Robert Murray, the CEO of the mining company, is a major Trump supporter who has personally lobbied the president to take other actions to help the ailing coal industry, particularly in regions where he sells coal.

Murray is also, the report added, "a prolific GOP donor." His support included exceedingly generous contributions to a leading pro-Trump super PAC in 2016.

It's a tough dynamic to defend. It's not cost effective for the Tennessee Valley Authority to prop up an aging coal plant. Trump is lobbying the TVA to do it anyway. (Remember when it was Republican orthodoxy that the government isn't supposed to pick winners and losers?)

It's problematic enough when Trump goes to bat for the coal industry in general, given the severity of the climate crisis and the importance of investing in clean energy. But this president is going further, lobbying on behalf of one individual coal plant, in order to help one individual supporter.

And all of this is happening right out in the open.

Postscript: The TVA's board is scheduled to vote on Thursday on the future of this plant. Four of the board's seven members are Trump appointees.