There are two Paradise’s that have been destroyed in the USA, one of which clearly happened during President Trump’s time in office. We’re talking about physical places, not some mystical fairy land Paradise. The first is of course Paradise California that burned to the ground in November. The second destroyed Paradise is in Kentucky, and was first destroyed in the 1960’s when a coal fired power plant was built next door and the town of Paradise KY was bulldozed. Almost 50 years later the TVA, Tennessee Valley Authority, wants to close down the remaining power unit at the Paradise Fossil Plant because it has become unreliable. On Feb 11, 2019, President Trump weighed in on Twitter demanding that the TVA keep that plant open, and it just so happens that the Paradise #3 power plant is supplied with coal from a company owned by a major donor to Trump campaigns.
I’m sure it’s a coincidence that Trump is personally weighing in on a specific power plant where one of his campaign donors does a lot of business supplying coal. Why would this be scandalous?
That plant name, Paradise #3, has a significance. It is not just a fanciful name used by the TVA to designate the Paradise we get from having electricity. No, it is named after a city, Paradise KY, that was memorialized by a famous John Prine song.
When I heard John Prine sing this song in person back in the 1980’s, it didn’t click that he was singing about a real place. The song talks about the Green River, the town of Paradise, the strip coal mines in Muhlenberg County, and the mining equipment used in the strip mining operation.
According to Wikipedia, the first segments of the TVA Paradise Fossil Plants were built in 1959. The town of Paradise was still partially in existence, despite the coal companies strip-mining coal all around the town. I can’t fathom the quality of life these people must have suffered. Their forefathers had named this town Paradise because of the idyllic location, only to have it turned into an open pit coal mine, and then to have coal-fired power plants open next door. The site “jpshrine.org” has a page giving a sense of what was lost when Paradise KY was destroyed. The plants were routinely criticized by environmentalists for Clean Air Act violations, and eventually two events caused the rest of the city to be closed down. First, were repeated ash-falls on the city from the power plant, and second the building of the Paradise #3 unit that is today the focus of President Trump’s attention.
TVA wants to close Paradise Unit #3
Multiple news sources are reporting that the TVA see’s Paradise #3 as a burden it no longer wants to bear. Namely that Paradise #3 “does not provide the level of flexibility needed to balance hourly, daily and seasonal changes in energy consumption,” meaning the plant is not reliable. Further, the VTA says “With less need for base load resources, assets that have relatively high projected future maintenance cost and environmental compliance expenditures, high forced outage rates and poor generation portfolio fit are now the focus of more detailed study for potential retirement,” and that the Paradise Fossil Plant #3 falls into this category.
The TVA also is looking to close another coal fired power plant in Tennessee. Since November 2013, TVA has closed 16 coal fired power plants and coal has dropped to 17% of TVA’s supply.
According to the aforementioned Washington Post article, Murray Energy supplies 100,000 tons of coal per year to the Paradise #3 plant. In 2017 Paradise #1 and Paradise #2 were replaced by natural gas power plants.
Ergo, why is President Trump focusing on that specific plant?
Robert Murray, Trump Donor, owner of Murray Energy
Enter Robert Murray who is CEO of Murray Energy, and a major donor to both the Trump Inauguration, and to SuperPAC’s that support Trump’s presidential campaign.
Early in the Trump Administration, Robert Murray delivered a wish list of environmental rollbacks and other policy changes that would help coal companies. The wish list was confidential, but was obtained by Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse who in turned handed it to the news media. The New York Times described it as calling for:
The sweeping wish list of regulatory overhauls includes ending regulations on greenhouse gas emissions and ozone and mine safety, as well as cutting the staff of the Environmental Protection Agency “at least in half” and overhauling the Labor Department’s office of mine safety.Source: NY Times
Mr. Murray was present when Pres. Trump signed an executive order rolling back Obama era climate change regulations. And in general the requests in this memo, and other contacts by Mr. Murray with Trump Administration officials, have resulted in huge gifts to the coal industry.
According to Politico, the Acting EPA Administrator Andrew Wheeler had previously worked for Murray Energy as a lobbyist. In the same article:
“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,” Kentucky Gov. Matt Bevin said, according to the Messenger-Inquirer, a local newspaper.Source: Politico
Pissing into the wind
Several of the news reports point to a major shift in the energy industry that has nothing to do with environmental policy.
Trump’s call to keep the plant open “flies in face of what we see happening in U.S. energy markets,” said Jason Bordoff, director of the Columbia University Center on Global Energy Policy. “Coal can’t compete with cheap gas and renewables. TVA’s own analysis justifies reducing the use of coal in its power mix.”Source: Washington Post
The good news is that alternatives, natural gas and renewables, are an economic better choice than coal. Hence the market is speaking loudly.
Often the so-called-Conservatives will claim the Government shouldn’t be in the role of picking one fuel over another, or picking winners and losers in the marketplace. Instead it is the market that should decide which company wins or loses, according to this supposedly Conservative ideology.
But when an executive personally lobbies government officials after giving them large campaign donations, is that the free market in operation? No, the only word we can think of is “corruption”.
We are fortunate that in this case the economically viable choice, renewable energy, is also the choice that leads to positive environmental results.
One would think Conservatives would applaud the success of the entrepreneurs who created the renewable energy industry. This is an example of business leaders who had a vision for what could be, made investments that matched, and have successfully navigated their businesses to a position of success. That the coal companies have a hard time competing is simply a symptom of that success, and it’s just the result of businesses doing what businesses do – namely to compete with one another for business.
Instead the Republican leadership is falling all over themselves to protect the Coal industry.
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