An Indiana coal mining company has hired former Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) Administrator Scott Pruitt to lobby against the closure of coal-fired power plants in the state.
Terra Haute-based Hallador Energy announced Sunday it had hired Pruitt to "protect" Indiana power customers from rate increases caused by coal plant shutdowns. The Indianapolis Star reported last week that Pruitt had registered as a lobbyist in the state.
Hallador said Indiana utilities are closing coal plants "based on Obama era rules that Trump and his EPA are in the process of unwinding," but utilities say it is because natural gas and renewables are cheaper options. State lawmakers this month rejected a plan aimed at saving coal plants, but Hallador wants the language added to the state budget.
The Indiana coal sector's latest push to save their resource is based on a familiar argument — that coal, absent regulations, is cheaper than other sources of electricity.
Indiana utilities Vectren and the Northern Indiana Public Service Co. (NIPSCO) have plans to shut most of their aging coal generators before 2030. The companies say replacing the plants with natural gas and renewables will be cheaper than keeping them online.
Hallador, however, argues the utilities only think coal is expensive due to the expected cost of Obama-era regulations on carbon emissions, mercury pollution and releases of coal ash and wastewater. The Trump administration aims to replace each with less stringent standards.
"[The utilities'] argument is that no one knows what the new rules will look like so we should hurry and make permanent decisions today," Hallador said in a release. "Who better than Scott Pruitt to aid the Indiana legislature on what Trump energy policy will look like?"
NIPSCO and Vectren did not immediately respond to requests for comment. But NIPSCO has said that its coal generators are not competitive with natural gas and renewables, even in favorable regulatory climates.
NIPSCO's Integrated Resource Plan — the basis for its coal closures — includes a modeling scenario friendly to coal plants requested by the Indiana Coal Council, a trade group. Even in that scenario, with high natural gas prices, no price on carbon, and a flat fee for delivered coal, the old plants were not competitive with alternatives.
NIPSCO plans to close all of its coal plants by 2028, while Vectren would shutter three plants and exit ownership of a fourth, but continue to use coal in the most efficient unit at its Culley plant.
Vectren's plans could be affected more directly by changes in EPA regulations, as the utility listed Obama-era changes to coal ash and wastewater rules as the "main drivers" behind plant retirements.
Finalized in 2015, the Coal Combustion Residuals and Effluent Limitation Guidelines (ELG) rules would require coal plants to expand controls for ash and water pollution. Pruitt put a two-year hold on the ELG rule and tried to replace the CCR guidelines when he was EPA administrator, but both those actions are held up in court.
Instead of moving to gas and renewables, Hallador wants the Indiana legislature to put a moratorium on new utility generation purchases altogether.
"We are asking the legislature to add two sentences to the budget bill that prevent the IURC from making decisions based on rules that the EPA is currently reconsidering, and in some instances has already reversed," the company said.
Republican lawmakers tried to push through a version of the moratorium earlier this month by attaching it to a water utility bill. But after approval in the utilities committee, the full House defeated the amendment 53-38, despite the GOP holding a supermajority in the chamber.
In that case, major Indiana business groups opposed the generation moratorium, along with NIPSCO and Vectren. This time, Hallador says it is "reaching out to our friends in the Indiana Chamber of Commerce and Indiana Manufacturer Association to ask them to help us in this effort."