Set a Price on Pollution, Protect Wildlife

Turning scientifically-supported climate policy on its head, the Trump Administration is considering a bailout of coal and nuclear plants that would essentially subsidize pollution. Under the banner of grid reliability and military preparedness, the Trump Administration is floating the idea of buying energy from floundering and outdated coal plants to prevent their inevitable shutdown.

This news coincides with the return of hurricane and fire season. Last year’s devastating season of superstorms, megafires, algal blooms, and other climate-related disasters highlighted the urgent need for policies to reduce the harmful carbon emissions that fuel these climate catastrophes. These events harm wildlife, endanger communities, and cost taxpayers billions of dollars each year. We need policies that put a price on the true cost of carbon emissions, not ones that subsidize them.

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The Administration is considering a plant to pay uncompetitive polluting power plants to keep them online. . Photo from usgs.gov

Déjà Vu All Over Again

Species like Pika face serious threats from climate change. Photo by Stephen Torbit

Department of Energy Secretary Rick Perry pushed a similar plan late last year, but it was unanimously shot down by the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission in January, despite Trump appointees comprising 80 percent of the commission’s members. The commission found no evidence that the electric system is at risk, nor that keeping uncompetitive plants running will improve grid reliability.

Not to be deterred, the administration is now considering bypassing the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission by using two obscure statutory provisions to use taxpayer dollars to prop-up a dirty energy industry for which demand is dwindling. Section 202 of the Federal Power Act is essentially a provision intended for emergencies, while the Defense Production Act allows the government to interfere with power production in times of war.

Former Bush-appointed commission chair Jon Wellinghoff referred to this as a “Soviet-style” plan and PJM Interconnect, the nation’s largest grid operator and one with many closing coal plants, said there was “no need” for this drastic measure.

Cleaner is Better

If this proposed bailout is instituted, it will be an unprecedented and unwarranted interference in the market to keep polluting power plants on life support. These plants can’t compete with cleaner energy sources which are not only increasingly less expensive, but increasingly more reliable.

The Federal Energy Regulatory Commission’s conclusion that we do not have a “reliability” crisis is widely supported. In fact, there is increasing evidence that cleaner sources of energy are also more reliable sources of energy. Countries like Germany and Denmark that have high levels of renewables also have a vastly more reliable grid. This comes in part because these countries have smartly used public dollars to invest in a modern grid that supports clean energy.

As we see more and more severe events that impact reliability, such as the horrible tragedies in Puerto Rico, Houston, and elsewhere, the value of more distributed, flexible grid are becoming apparent. A decentralized grid made possible by renewables — not a centralized grid of large coal plants — offers the type of reliability and resilience that areas vulnerable to disaster need.

Clean energy sources are like wind are providing affordable, reliable energy that is out-competing coal in the marketplace. Photo by Jim Murphy

Pricing Pollution, Not Paying for More

Clean energy is on the rise, and bringing reliable power, jobs, and tax dollars to rural communities in places like Iowa, where the state’s largest utility is aiming to supply virtually all its customers with power from local wind farms. With market forces favoring cleaner, reliable, less polluting sources of energy, it is time to invest in a transition that will benefit wildlife and communities by keeping climate change in check and reducing harmful pollutants, like mercury, acid rain, smog, and power plant wastewater.

Climate change pollution is costing wildlife too much already. We don’t need our tax dollars paying for more of it. What we need is price on carbon pollution that will create a fair market to spur the emerging clean, reliable energy sector to come on in line at a pace that will shield wildlife, wild places, and our communities from the unbearable impacts of runaway climate change.

Take action for loggerhead sea turtles and other climate change impacted wildlife by telling your senators and representative to oppose any effort that could limit opportunities for tackling climate change:

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