How a Coal Baron’s Wish List Became President Trump’s To-Do List


“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,” Mr. Whitehouse said.

The Energy Department did not respond to a request to discuss the memos from Mr. Murray.

The Trump administration has had an unusually close relationship with Mr. Murray. He and 10 of his miners were invited to watch the president sign an executive order to rollback President Obama’s climate change regulations. He has met with Mr. Perry to discuss the needs of coal producers. His longtime attorney, Andrew Wheeler, is awaiting Senate confirmation to the No. 2 slot at the E.P.A., and David Zatezalo, the nation’s new top mine safety and health regulator and previously the president of a coal mining company, told his hometown paper that Mr. Murray had encouraged him to put his hat in the ring for the job.

Jeffrey Holmstead, a lawyer with the firm Bracewell and a deputy administrator of the E.P.A. in the George W. Bush administration, called Mr. Murray’s action plan “an ambitious list.” While interest groups always try to influence policy in a new administration, Mr. Holmstead said Mr. Murray’s status with the administration set him apart.

“I really don’t think it’s at all unusual that Murray would have this wish list or a set of recommendations. What makes it different is that it’s pretty clear that he has a personal relationship with the president,” Mr. Holmstead said. “It seems like given Mr. Murray’s relationship with the president that he had more of an expectation that these things were going to be accepted or implemented.”

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One item not on the list yet important to Mr. Murray was an order the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission rejected Monday to subsidize struggling coal and nuclear power plants. Mr. Murray railed against that decision saying it would lead to the decommissioning of coal and nuclear power plants.

Environmental groups have accused Mr. Murray of directly asking Mr. Perry for a proposed rule to reward coal and nuclear power plants for providing “grid resiliency.” The March 1 memo does not mention the grid, though photographs of the cover page of the March 23 document to Mr. Perry obtained by In These Times shows its focus is “a plan for achieving reliable and low cost electricity.”

Soon after Mr. Murray’s meeting at D.O.E., Mr. Perry ordered the agency to prepare a study on the country’s electric grid reliability, a precursor to ordering the federal government to subsidize struggling coal and nuclear plants.

Mr. Murray and a spokesman, Gary Broadbent, said the difference between the two memos was that the one provided to Mr. Perry asked the Energy Department to study the security of the nation’s power grid.

“I suggested that the study be made,” Mr. Murray said. “What they did from there, the administration did. I did not have involvement in it.”

One of the items on the 14-point list was an overhaul of FERC regulators, and the Trump administration accomplished that. But those Trump-appointed commissioners voted against the plan to bail out coal and nuclear.

“Obviously they forgot who appointed them right out of the box,” Mr. Murray said.

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