If President Trump is serious about protecting US manufacturing jobs, he has a strange way of showing it. In just the past few days, his Energy Secretary Rick Perry proposed new protections for coal and nuclear power plants, which were met with a hail of invective from, well, pretty much everybody, including leading manufacturers as well as other top US businesses. EPA chief Scott Pruitt followed up by announcing that he would rescind the Clean Power Plan, unleashing another flood of criticism.
So, why propose policies that everybody hates?
A “Strange And Unfortunate” Twist For The Clean Power Plan
For those of you new to the topic, the Clean Power Plan is former President Obama’s signature initiative to reduce greenhouse gases from the power generation sector. Though it has had an impact on state-level energy planning, the Clean Power Plan never actually went into effect. It launched in 2015 and quickly stalled out in court by 2016, where it remains in suspended animation.
Nevertheless, coal power plants have been closing by the score. The trend began years before Obama proposed the Clean Power Plan, as the shale gas boom put coal on the ropes and electricity consumers began transitioning to cleaner energy sources.
The business investment organization Ceres clapped back at Pruitt in a press statement, characterizing the new coal rule as “misguided and out of step with the leaders in the business community.” Ceres further noted that more than 365 companies and investors signed on to support the Clean Power Plan in 2015.
Ceres senior director of policy Anne Kelly fleshed out the implications of the Clean Power Plan in a phone conversation with CleanTechnica.
“The most unfortunate thing is that it sends precisely the wrong signal to the marketplace,” Kelly said. “In Colorado, for example, they are closing coal plants and saving money. It’s a message of going backwards, especially combined with the Paris Agreement withdrawal.”
Kelly described the CPP rollback as “strange and unfortunate,” considering that the proposal will lead to expensive lawsuits and rulemaking procedures, without necessarily providing any real protection to coal power plants:
Our sense is that many market forces are coalescing around coal power shut-downs. The clean energy train has left the station.
We don’t believe these market trends are going to change. They were in place before, during and after the CPP was contemplated.
Among the market forces arrayed against coal, Kelly points out that corporate leaders have already staked out a public position, and they are not likely to risk brand damage by backing down:
Coal is at a real disadvantage because of transparency in goal-setting. The market pull for clean energy is coming from companies that have set targets and are looking to meet those targets. Those are public targets, so companies are committed.
Kelly also heads up BICEP, the organization’s network of policy influencers advocating for a low carbon economy.
When you take a look at BICEP membership, you see a world of hurt ahead for the Clean Power Plan rollback.
The BICEP list includes leading consumer brand manufacturers and retailers including Kellogg’s, Nestle, L’Oreal, Levi-Strauss, Starbucks, Timberland, Unilever, and IKEA, among others.
Also of interest, the list includes Vulcan, Inc. Never heard of them? Neither did we, but they pack a punch. Vulcan is the “engine” for the vision of Microsoft cofounder Paul G. Allen:
Vulcan oversees and manages a broad compilation of projects, investments and companies all over the world. We are that big umbrella company under which a host of signature Allen family entities fall under — like Vulcan Real Estate, the Allen Institute for Brain Science, the Flying Heritage Collection and the Seattle Seahawks, just to name a few.
Leading Manufacturers Hate On The New Coal And Nuclear Rule
The Clean Power Plan announcement did meet with some applause from trade groups and utilities, but Rick Perry’s proposed new coal rule, on the other hand, has been struggling to find allies.
By way of recap, Perry basically proposed that electricity customers should pay artificially higher rates in order to keep uneconomic coal and nuclear power plants up and running.
The reaction from the energy-focused trade organization Industrial Energy Consumers of America was swift and to the point. Here’s a snippet from the letter they dashed off to the Senate Committee on Energy and Natural Resources:
The proposal is anti-competitive and if implemented, it would distort, if not destroy , competitive wholesale electricity markets, increase the price of electricity to all consumers, and directly impact negatively the competitiveness of U.S. manufacturing.
The pain is even more real when you consider that IECA members operate more than 3,400 manufacturing facilities nationwide, and the list of IECA members includes some pretty heavy hitters. Think Archer Daniels Midland, Goodyear, US Steel and Weyerhaeuser and you’re on the right track.
Another interesting name that pops up on the IECA member list is Koch Industries. That’s a whole ‘nother can of worms. It means that essentially, the Trump Administration just picked a fight with the Koch brothers, who are among the Republican party’s biggest and most well known activist donors.
Those of you familiar with the Koch family’s interest in fossil fuels may recall that Koch Industries does have coal interests under its belt, but the bulk of its fuel business is in infrastructure related to petroleum, including the massive Colonial Pipeline. Koch’s stable of manufacturing subsidiaries also stands to suffer under Perry’s new coal rule.
Forbes also notes that other fossil fuel stakeholders hate the new proposal:
Some energy business observers wrote that they were taken by surprise when solar and wind industry trade groups plus the American Council on Renewable Energy (ACORE) joined the American Petroleum Institute, the Interstate Natural Gas Association of America and the Natural Gas Supply Association to file a motion opposing the rule and the proposed action timetable.
So, Why Propose A New Coal Rule That Everybody Hates?
Antipathy for the new coal rule may have surprised some observers, but not CleanTechnica. Natural gas stakeholders have nothing to gain and a lot to lose from the new rule.
So, why would the Trump Administration purposefully rile up the natural gas industry? Maybe it’s just us, but it could have something to do with the President’s increasingly contentious relationship with Secretary of State Rex Tillerson.
In his former capacity as longtime Exxon CEO, Tillerson oversaw the company’s big moves into the booming shale gas market.
Trump has been steadily undercutting Tillerson in his public sector role, and it seems that the President is determined to cut the legs out from under Tillerson’s legacy in the private sector, too.
If that seems a bit far-fetched, consider that Trump’s scorched-earth approach to running his Administration has already burned several other stalwarts in his own party.
Follow me on Twitter.
Image (screenshot): via Ceres.
Don't want to miss a cleantech story? Sign up for daily news updates from CleanTechnica on email. Or follow us on Google News!
Have a tip for CleanTechnica, want to advertise, or want to suggest a guest for our CleanTech Talk podcast? Contact us here.