- A version of the Murray Energy "Action Plan" to save the coal sector includes many policy initiatives taken up by the Trump administration, the memo's release shows.
- Published by The New York Times, the Action Plan calls for the elimination of federal regulations on carbon, ozone, cross-state air pollutants and mining safety as well as subsidies for renewable energy. Market compensation for coal plants was not mentioned, but Murray said there is more than one version of the memo.
- The release comes days after the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission rejected a Department of Energy plan that would have moved some at-risk coal plants into cost recovery. Murray in a separate statement called for Trump to fire four of the regulators who rejected the rule.
It's only Wednesday, and it already hasn't been a good week for Bob Murray.
The CEO of the nation's largest private coal miner on Monday saw federal regulators reject a coal plant bailout he himself recommended to DOE. The next day, the Times released a private memo he reportedly passed to Vice President Mike Pence in March, detailing a litany of strategies to boost employment in the coal sector.
“This list was to remain private, a list of things that needed to be done for reliable, low-cost electricity in America," Murray said. "That was my number one goal here, was to give guidance to the administration in an area that I have observed over 60 years."
The memo, supplied to the Times by Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI), includes a laundry list of directives to cut regulations on coal-fired generators and mining.
Murray calls for the elimination of the Obama administration's Clean Power Plan, which would have governed carbon emissions from the power sector, as well as an exit from the Paris Climate Accord and the end to other Environmental Protection Agency rules on ozone and cross-state air pollution. The EPA itself is targeted for a 50% reduction in staff.
The memo also attacks federal funding for carbon capture and storage (CCS), which Murray refers to as a "pseudonym for no-coal." Instead, the coal magnate asked the administration to focus research funds on more efficient coal-fired generators.
Murray also pushed for "withdrawal and suspension" of the EPA's endangerment finding on carbon emissions, which compels it to regulate greenhouse gases. The finding, completed under order from the Supreme Court in 2009, forms the "foundation for the agency's far reaching regulation of the economy," he wrote.
The White House and EPA administrator Scott Pruitt have so far resisted calls from Murray and conservative groups to challenge the endangerment finding, which would likely involve lengthy court battles invoking climate science. But the administration has already taken action on a number of other items in the memo.
The Clean Power Plan and ozone regulations are under review and expected to be eliminated or replaced with less-stringent rules. The White House's proposed budget would eliminate CCS funding and cut the EPA's budget by a third, slashing its staff. And Trump appointees have already reshaped federal agencies targeted in the memo — FERC, the Tennessee Valley Authority, the National Labor Relations Board and the Mine Safety and Health Administration.
At FERC, however, Murray's victory rings hollow. Despite Trump appointing four of the five sitting commissioners, they all voted unanimously this week to reject DOE's controversial cost recovery proposal.
Murray, in response, said Trump should fire all the regulators with the exception of Commissioner Neil Chatterjee, who pushed a short-term subsidy plan for coal and nuclear plants before dropping the proposal and voting with the rest of the commission. Murray told The Hill that Chatterjee was “apparently was overwhelmed by the other four.”
FERC is an independent agency, making it difficult for the White House to remove regulators except in the case of gross neglect of duty or malfeasance.
Murray's anger at FERC's decision was expected given his role in crafting the DOE proposal. Last month, magazine In These Times released photos of Murray meeting with Secretary of Energy Rick Perry, including images of a separate coal memo that closely resembles the text of DOE's proposal to FERC.
"Immediate action needs to be taken to require organized power markets to value fuel security, fuel diversity, and ancillary services that only base load generating assets, especially coal plants, can provide," the memo said.
Murray denied proposing the cost recovery rule in a scathing comment filed at FERC, noting that the exact wording of the DOE proposal differs from the memo, though its intention is the same. He reiterated that argument to the Times, saying he only pushed DOE to issue its grid study, not the eventual rule.
The two memos are different because the one sent to Pence focused on reviving coal industry jobs, Murray told the Times, while the one for DOE focused on electricity markets. DOE still has that memo, but has declined requests from media organizations and Democratic lawmakers to release it, drawing the ire of Whitehouse.
“The power of the fossil fuel industry around here is so great I think the industry feels they can count on simply not complying with requests,” the senator told the Times.