President Trump loves to talk about coal-fired power: Whenever he travels to West Virginia or Kentucky he boasts of bringing back “beautiful clean coal.”
Trump talks far less at political rallies about his administration’s efforts to help the nation’s nuclear energy business.
Yet on Friday, the president’s top energy official just announced a major $3.7 billion boost to keep afloat the last remaining commercial nuclear reactors under construction in the United States.
At a speech to nuclear power plant employees in Georgia, where the two new reactors are being built, Energy Secretary Rick Perry said the taxpayer-guaranteed financing was part of a broader “goal of making America nuclear cool again.”
“Ladies and gentlemen, look around you,” he said at the beginning of his address. “This is the real new green deal.”
The financial boost from the Trump administration comes as debate has picked up in Washington over what to do about climate change. Progressive Democrats have pushed an aggressive, if vague, plan called the Green New Deal to rein in carbon emissions, though they cannot agree on what role nuclear energy would play in it. Some Republicans, meanwhile, have emphasized they would rather cut emissions though innovation -- including by building new nuclear reactors -- rather than regulation.
The loan guarantee for the project, being built at the Vogtle power station near Augusta, is significant since the pair of reactors had gone billions of dollars over-budget while fallen years behind schedule.
When federal nuclear regulators originally approved the project in 2012, the two reactors were thought to cost $14 billion. Now the cost projection is nearly double.
That $3.7 billion in guaranteed financing comes on top of another $8.3 billion in loan guarantees from the Energy Department under Barack Obama. The completion date has also been pushed back until 2022.
The Obama administration envisioned the new Vogtle project as part of a new fleet of new nuclear reactors to be built in the United States. But that so-called nuclear renaissance never came to fruition after the Fukushima nuclear disaster in 2011.
For years, the U.S. nuclear industry has struggled with justifying the cost of constructing new reactors. Increasingly, the nuclear power plants still in operation face stiff competition in electricity markets from newer and cheaper forms of generation, like natural gas, solar and wind power.
That, in part, has led to the two new Vogtle nuclear reactors to be the first to be licensed and begin construction in the United States in more than three decades.
But since Trump took office, time and again his administration has held up nuclear and coal power plants as essential to providing homes and businesses with a steady stream of electricity.
Unlike solar panels or wind turbines, nuclear and coal can generate power no matter the weather.
Flanked by energy executives and Georgia politicians on Friday, Perry hammered home that point.
"When you flip on that light switch, when you turn on the air conditioner in the summertime, we take it for granted," Perry told reporters. "It's about our national security. It's about the security of our families. It's about the comfort of our homes."
During his first year in office, Perry made a version of that argument to the independent Federal Energy Regulatory Commission to justify subsidizing coal and nuclear plants that were struggling to compete with cheaper power from renewables and natural gas.
But the five-member commission, which at the time had four Trump appointees, unanimously rejected Perry’s plan.
Now it is Democrats who cannot decide among themselves whether or not to back building more nuclear power plants to address an issue their political base increasingly cares about: climate change.
Historically, progressives have been skeptical of nuclear energy over concerns about accidents like Fukushima. Yet nuclear power, which still supplies one in every five megawatts in the country, is the largest producer of electricity that does not contribute greenhouse gases to the atmosphere.
That has led the Democratic drafters of the actual Green New Deal, which has captured the attention of so many in Washington and will be voted on this week, to punt on including any specific language on nuclear energy.
"We've drafted it in a way which can get the support of progressives and moderates inside of our caucus," Sen. Edward J. Markey (D-Mass.), one of the lead sponsors of the Green New Deal resolution, told reporters last month.
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— How McConnell wants to use the Green New Deal to divide Democrats: Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-N.Y.)'s star power has boosted the nonbinding resolution outlining goals in addressing climate change, as The Post’s Paul Kane reports. But Senate Republicans want to use the ideas coming from rising progressive stars to divide the party. McConnell “believes the proposal, written by Ocasio-Cortez and Sen. Edward J. Markey (D-Mass.), embraced by several top Democratic presidential contenders but criticized by the AFL-CIO as unrealistic, would be politically divisive for a party that has made winning back Midwest battleground states a top priority for 2020,” Kane writes.
Trump calls the deal “easy to beat”: “You look at this Green New Deal — it’s the most preposterous thing,” the president said in a recent interview with Fox Business. “Now I don’t want to knock it too much right now because I really hope they keep going forward with it, frankly, because I think it’s going to be very easy to beat.”
— A “Green Real Deal” in the works: Rep. Matt Gaetz (R-Fla.) is circulating a resolution that will act as a counter to the Green New Deal, Politico reports. His nonbinding “Green Real Deal” resolution says climate change as a national security threat and says the government should push for innovative ways to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, but lacks any concrete targets for carbon cutting measures. “Gaetz’s resolution has been circulating among energy lobbyists ahead of an expected introduction in the coming days,” Politico reports.
— “A punch in the gut”: Even before a major storm led to catastrophic flooding in the Midwest, U.S. farmers were struggling as a result of the U.S.-China trade war. That struggle was compounded as many of those farmers have seen their crops swept away by the storm or still underwater, The Post’s Annie Gowen and Frances Stead Sellers report. As one farmer put it to them: “Essentially, it’s two years of negative; these farmers lost what was stored in the bins and won’t be able to plant next year’s crop."
Native Americans stranded after the flood: It has been almost two weeks that some residents on the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation in South Dakota have been stranded after a storm and subsequent flooding. The combination of severe weather and bad roads means emergency resources haven’t been able to easily reach the reservation, the New York Times reports. There’s also a “sense on Pine Ridge, a place of long-strained relations with the state and federal governments, that help has been woefully slow to arrive, and that few people beyond the reservation know or care much about its plight,” per the report.
Runoff impairs drinking water treatment: The flooding along the Missouri River has hampered drinking water treatment resources in Kansas City, Mo., and the municipal water service warned of a risk to children and the elderly and others with vulnerable immune systems, Reuters reports.
Disaster survivors’ data exposed: The Federal Emergency Management Agency revealed the personal addresses and banking information of more than 2 million disaster survivors in the United States in what it called a “major privacy incident.” A FEMA spokeswoman said the agency “provided more information than was necessary” when it transferred information to a contractor, The Post’s Joel Achenbach, William Wan and Tony Romm report. About 1.8 million people had banking information and addresses revealed while about 725,000 people had just addresses shared, though it’s not clear whether that information was compromised or led to any identity theft. The spokeswoman said FEMA has taken “aggressive measures to correct this error.”
— New Mexico puts "mini" Green New Deal on the books: Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham (D) signed an energy bill calling on the state’s major investor-owned utilities to get 100 percent of their electricity from renewable sources by 2045, after they reach a goal of 50 percent renewable sources by 2030 and 80 percent by 2040. The bill, hailed by some as a "mini" Green New Deal, also sets up a financing system to help with the closure of a coal power plant, helps laid off coal workers and establishes job training in renewable energy jobs, the Santa Fe New Mexican reports. Only California and Hawaii have similar legislation in place for carbon-free power.
— GM announces $1.4 billion in U.S. investment: General Motors announced a major new investment at a factory in Michigan, a move that came after the auto company faced a week of attacks from Trump over its decision to close a plant in Ohio. The company will steer $300 million to a plant in the Detroit suburbs to build a new electric vehicle, adding 400 jobs. The expansion is part of a $1.8 billion investment in the United States, $1.4 billion of which was not previously announced. “GM’s announcement Friday was tailored to appease Trump, but the investment is not a direct result of his pushing,” The Post’s Heather Long and Josh Dawsey report. “Trump did not tweet about GM’s announcement Friday, a notable difference from his praise for Ford earlier in the week after that automaker said it would invest $1 billion at a facility in Michigan."
— Fate of largest coal plant in West is sealed: A committee of Navajo Nation Council delegates voted 11-9 to end efforts to purchase the Navajo Generating Station coal-fired power plant, essentially ensuring the plant will close. The utilities that co-own the plant said in 2017 they would close the plant because it was no longer economically viable. “The power plant and mine bring myriad economic benefits to the Navajo and Hopi people and governments, and both tribes face severe cutbacks in their general fund budgets with the closure,” the Arizona Republic reports. “Environmental activists who have long opposed coal operations on tribal land cheered the council's decision.”
— "We know him very well": Oil executives gathered at a private meeting in California in 2017 were gloating about the access they would have to the Trump administration after David Bernhardt, their former lawyer, was named to be the deputy Interior secretary. According to a recording of the event reported by Reveal from the Center for Investigative Reporting, Dan Naatz, the political director of the Independent Petroleum Association of America, suggested the group’s interests would be heard by top officials. “We know him very well, and we have direct access to him, have conversations with him about issues ranging from federal land access to endangered species, to a lot of issues,” Naatz said.
- The Center for Climate and Security holds an event on climate change and national security.
- The House Natural Resources Subcommittee on Energy and Mineral Resources holds a hearing on protecting the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge Coastal Plain on Tuesday.
- The House Appropriations Subcommittee on Interior, Environment and Related Agencies holds a hearing on the Interior budget on Tuesday.
- The House Appropriations Subcommittee on Energy and Water Development holds a hearing in the Energy Department budget on Tuesday.
- The House Appropriations Subcommittee on Commerce, Justice, Science and Related Agencies holds a hearing on the National Science Foundation's 2020 budget request on Tuesday.
- The Senate Energy and Natural Resources Subcommittee on Water and Power holds a hearing on the Colorado River Drought Contingency Plan on Wednesday.
- The House Natural Resources Committee holds a hearing on Interior spending and Trump's 2020 budget request on Wednesday.
- The Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee holds a hearing on the nomination of Bernhardt to be Interior Secretary on Thursday.
- The Senate Environment and Public Works Committee holds a hearing on the federal response to the risks associated with per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances on Thursday.
- The House Natural Resources Subcommittee on Energy and Mineral Resources holds a hearing on abandoned mine land reclamation on Thursday.&
- Sen. Chris Van Hollen (D-Md.) and Rep. Don Beyer (D-Va.) speak at an event hosted by Resources for the Future on "Putting a Price on Carbon" on Thursday.
— A “magic fridge”: After a day of trudging through mud and standing water, clearing debris from an area that was recently underwater after major flooding in Nebraska, Gayland Stouffer came across a small black box in the muck, as The Post’s Meagan Flynn writes. “Hey, it’s a refrigerator!” he yelled out to his friend. “And it’s full of beer!”