WASHINGTON – The CEO of one of the nation's largest coal companies claimed last month he had nothing to do with the Trump administration's scheme to make utility customers pay above-market rates for electricity from failing coal-fired power plants. But an explosive investigation by In These Times presents photographic proof that it was his idea.
The magazine obtained exclusive photos of a previously undisclosed March 29 meeting of Energy Secretary Rick Perry and Bob Murray, CEO of Murray Energy, whose PAC gave $200,000 to President Trump's campaign. Reporter Kate Aronoff notes that the meeting came one day after Trump "signed an executive order pledging to repeal the Obama administration's Clean Power Plan, which had been vehemently opposed" by Murray Energy.
The photos show Murray presenting an "action plan" for federal agencies to give favorable treatment to the coal industry. The existence of the plan has been known for months, but the photos reveal details strikingly similar to Perry's plan for a forced ratepayer subsidy to bail out the coal and nuclear industries, whose dirty, dangerous and aging plants can't compete with cheaper energy from renewables and natural gas. Six months after the meeting, Perry unveiled his proposal.
Energy analysts say Perry's plan could add more than $10 billion a year to Americans' utility bills and contribute to an estimated 27,000 premature deaths from air pollution in the next 25 years. The Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, or FERC, was to have made a decision next week about whether to move forward with the plan. But on Friday, newly installed FERC Chairman Kevin McIntyre sent Perry a letter seeking a 30-day delay on the decision.
"We already knew Perry's scheme was a blatant political favor for President Trump's very special friends in the coal industry," EWG President Ken Cook. "Now we have proof that Murray Energy cooked the whole thing up and then lied about it. The more we find out about this plot to take billions from utility customers to keep a dying industry on life support, the more it stinks of corruption."
Last month, EWG and American Oversight formally petitioned the Department of Energy to release all communications between Perry and other senior officials over the administration's proposed bailout, which would require regional electricity grids to buy power from coal and nuclear plants even when cheaper sources are available.
The photos obtained by In These Times show that Murray lobbyist Andrew Wheeler also attended the meeting. Wheeler has since been nominated by the Trump administration to become deputy administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency. Another photo shows Bob Murray and Perry in a bear hug, and a third shows a cover letter addressed to Perry and signed by Murray, concluding: “We are available to assist you in any way that you request.”
Photo courtesy of Gage Skidmore via Flickr.com