President Donald Trump on Monday publicly pushed the Tennessee Valley Authority to save an aging coal plant in Kentucky that buys its fuel from one of the president’s top supporters.
“Coal is an important part of our electricity generation mix and @TVAnews should give serious consideration to all factors before voting to close viable power plants, like Paradise #3 in Kentucky!” Trump tweeted.
His 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. The White House has shelved a proposed coal bailout plan that has been among Murray's top priorities, although the Trump administration has rolled back numerous other environmental rules the magnate has criticized.
Murray is a prolific GOP donor, and his company gave $1 million from his company to the Trump-supporting super PAC America First Action in the last election cycle, among other big contributions. Acting EPA Administrator Andrew Wheeler, who is awaiting Senate confirmation, lobbied for Murray Energy among other clients before joining the Trump administration, including joining the CEO and other company officials in a 2017 meeting with Energy Secretary Rick Perry to discuss Murray's policy proposals. Wheeler has said he did not write the action plan Murray presented to the Trump administration.
Former New York Mayor Mike Bloomberg, who is mulling entering the Democratic presidential primary, panned Trump's call to bail out the plant.
"As any business leader knows, the top consideration at @TVAnews is cost. Phasing out that coal plant will save Kentuckians money (not to mention their air & water)," Bloomberg tweeted.
TVA retired two other coal-burning units at the Paradise, Ky., site in 2017 because of pollution limits imposed by the Obama administration's Mercury and Air Toxics Standards. The Trump administration is revisiting the underlying justification for the rule and has asked for input on whether to go further. While EPA insists it will not weaken or eliminate the mercury standard itself, environmentalists say the administration is inviting legal challenges that eventually could upend the regulation. TVA replaced the retired coal with new, cleaner gas-burning generation.
The agency on Monday released its environmental assessment finding the proposed closure would cause "no significant impact" on the environment. TVA's board, which currently has seven members and two openings that require Senate confirmation, is slated to vote on the future of Paradise Unit 3 on Thursday. Three of the seven members are Obama appointees; the other four were named by Trump.
TVA has said it wants to close the plant because of “flat to declining“ load, low natural gas prices, expected high maintenance and regulatory compliance costs and "poor generation portfolio fit," among other reasons.
Kentucky Gov. Matt Bevin on Saturday said he and Trump would call on the TVA board to postpone its vote until TVA’s two open seats can be filled and FERC finishes a study on grid resiliency.
“Fifty percent of a single mine's production goes into this plant. What's it going to do to that mine? What's it going to do to the people who work there — to the people who haul that material? The ripple effect of this is great,” Bevin said, according to the Messenger-Inquirer, a local newspaper.
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) also called to save the plant. “Kentuckians strongly oppose moving away from coal, and I would hope that the TVA listens to our voices," McConnell said in a video Monday.
Only one TVA nominee is pending in the Senate: John Ryder, a former general counsel for the Republican National Committee. Ryder was not confirmed by the full Senate last year but was re-nominated by Trump last month.
Trump has not yet nominated anyone for the final empty seat. TVA serves Tennessee as well as parts of Alabama, Mississippi, Georgia, North Carolina and Kentucky.