Citing what they claimed is new information about the influence of a top coal executive, three environmental groups asked federal regulators to reject a U.S. Department of Energy proposal to change market rules to boost the financial stability of coal and nuclear power plants.
In a Dec. 20 supplemental filing to the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, the Natural Resources Defense Council, the Sierra Club and Earthjustice pointed to "material factual information that came to light following the close of the comment period."
The groups referred to a previously undisclosed March 29 meeting between coal company Murray Energy Corp. CEO Robert Murray and Secretary of Energy Rick Perry during which Murray submitted a document titled "Action Plan For Reliable And Low-Cost Electricity In America And To Assist In The Survival Of Our Country’s Coal Industry."
The filing cited a Dec. 6 "In These Times" article that contains photos of "a document on Murray Energy letterhead dated March 23, 2017, addressed to Secretary Perry ... stating: 'Immediate action needs to be taken to require organized power markets to value fuel security, fuel diversity, and ancillary services that only baseload generating assets, especially coal plants, can provide."
"This language closely resembles language used" in the DOE's notice of proposed rulemaking (FERC docket RM18-1) sent to FERC in late September that would require regional power grid operators to guarantee full cost recovery and a return on investment for generators that maintain 90-day on-site fuel supplies, which applies to coal and nuclear facilities, according to the environmental groups.
Murray Energy confirmed the meeting with Perry took place but said Murray did not discuss or otherwise influence the DOE's proposal.
"Mr. Murray confirms that he met with Secretary Perry on March 29, 2017, in order to discuss the reforms necessary to protect jobs and livelihoods in the United States coal industry, including initiating a study of the reliability and resiliency of the electric power grid," Murray Energy spokesman Gary Broadbent said in an email Dec. 22.
"Ultimately, the Department of Energy did conduct a study. During the meeting, Mr. Murray never discussed the grid resiliency pricing rule ... as he has stated heretofore. Indeed, he had no prior notice of this rulemaking and was not involved in drafting the rule," Broadbent said.
In their comments to FERC, the environmental groups claimed the similarity in language between Murray's March document and the DOE NOPR "adds to the weight of evidence that the proposal aims to benefit select companies rather than achieve legitimate statutory aims." For these and other reasons detailed in their prior comments, the groups said FERC needs to reject the proposal.
Jared Anderson is a reporter for S&P Global Platts, which, like S&P Global Market Intelligence, is owned by S&P Global Inc.