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Coal advocate: Industry needs strong coalitions to fight efforts to close plants

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Essential Energy Insights - September 17, 2020

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Coal advocate: Industry needs strong coalitions to fight efforts to close plants

? Coal advocacy group Energy Policy Network believes the industry is "extremely outfunded" by environmental groups in state and local fights over power plants.

? Key to winning battles is building a strong coalition with unions, utilities and government agencies.

? As coal industry regains its footing, more resources are needed to fight local battles to keep plants online.

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Randy Eminger is the executive director of the Energy Policy Network, a national advocacy organization working with state and local leaders to develop energy and environmental policies.

Randy Eminger serves as executive director of the Energy Policy Network, a national advocacy organization working with state and local leaders to develop energy and environmental policies that benefit the coal industry. In his former position as the regional vice president for the American Coalition for Clean Coal Electricity, he oversaw government relations in 11 southern states, developing policy positions, forming coalitions, activating grassroots initiatives and other activities. Eminger also worked as director of state affairs at Southwestern Public Service Co. and has served as officer and on the boards of a number of regional and state energy associations.

S&P Global Market Intelligence asked Eminger about the way he has helped the coal industry fight against local grassroots and state efforts by environmentalists to shut down coal plants across the country. This is an edited transcript of the interview.

S&P Global Market Intelligence: What challenges does the industry face from environmental groups and their efforts to close U.S. coal plants?

Randy Eminger: The coal industry will continue to face attacks from environmental groups from numerous directions. Since the election of President Donald Trump, it seems environmental groups have shifted their efforts more to litigation and state actions. The challenge for our industry is to effectively defend ourselves when we are extremely outfunded. The coal industry is trying to dig itself out of eight years of the Obama administration and environmental groups both doing their best to put us out of business. Our mining companies are still working their way out of serious financial problems. Defending ourselves in court is expensive and slow-moving. Equally as challenging is defending ourselves in numerous states. The Sierra Club's "Beyond Coal" [campaign] touts that it has millions of dollars and chapters in 48 states. It's tough to compete with those resources.

How can the industry fight these efforts on local and state levels?

The key to winning at the state and local level starts with building a strong coalition. Entities join your coalition for many reasons. Large industry wants reliable baseload electric power, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce wants low electric rates to attract business, unions hope to keep high-paying jobs, utilities wish to keep a balanced portfolio and the states fight to protect their rights. Participants have their own motive for joining. It's not always the same groups that make up the coalition. Each state coalition depends on a number of issues (forum, venue, politics, demographics). A broad-based coalition helps your standing in legal battles and regulatory forums.

What kind of success have you had? Can you point to a few examples?

The Energy Policy Network has only been in existence for two years. However, we have experienced several successes. The Sierra Club tried to shut down a large coal-fueled plant in Oklahoma. EPN developed a coalition of parties interested in keeping the plant open. EPN provided the resources needed to engage in the regulatory process and mount a grassroots effort to help save the plant. Another example would be our efforts on the regional haze rule. The [Clean Air Act] clearly gives authority to the states to develop and implement regional haze goals. States have done a masterful job at meeting and even exceeding these goals. Yet environmental groups continue to push for plant closures based on the regional haze argument. Victories in Texas, Louisiana and Nebraska have played large in keeping coal-fueled plants alive in these states.

Would you say you are winning, or do you anticipate more challenges ahead?

No, I would not say we are winning. I believe our odds of winning are as diverse as the states themselves. It depends on whether the battle is in California, Kentucky, or somewhere in between. It is obvious, however, that the changes at the federal level have slowed the "war on coal." And without a "sue and settle" EPA, environmental groups will have to work harder to force the early closure of coal-fueled plants.

What do you think would help in this fight?

In a word: resources. Our industry is currently in a Catch-22. During a critical time when it needs to be fighting battles in dozens of states, it lacks the resources to do so. My hope is that as the coal industry regains its balance, it will replace the funding and personnel it lost over the past eight years.